British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has revealed his squad for the eagerly-anticipated first Test against world champions South Africa.
Gatland has sprung a few surprises in his selection for the match at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, throwing his weight behind the strength of Alun Wyn Jones’ shoulder by including his captain in the second row.
After the Springboks named Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert as their starters, Jones is paired with 2017 Lions tour partner Maro Itoje.
Targetting the Springboks in the lineout has led to the belief that Tadhg Beirne would be picked as the blindside flanker, but Gatland has opted for Courtney Lawes instead.
The England back-five forward is joined by Tom Curry and Jack Conan in the back row, as Hamish Watson is on the bench. That means Sam Simmonds, Taulupe Faletau and Josh Navidi will be watching from the stands.
Ali Price is one of three Scotland players included in the starting XV, as he partners Dan Biggar at scrum-half, while Duhan van der Merwe is preferred to Josh Adams on the wing and Stuarr Hogg is the full-back.
In the centres, Robbie Henshaw had been one of the Lions’ most pressing concerns as he marked his comeback from a hamstring strain on Saturday against the Stormers.
That has convinced Gatland he is ready to go head-to-head with Damian de Allende. Elliot Daly gets the nod at outside centre ahead of Chris Harris.
The back three sees Anthony Watson claim his fourth Lions Test cap, opposite the aforementioned van der Merwe.
Like in May when he announced his 37-man squad for the tour, Gatland stated that selecting a team for the first Test had been the hardest of his time as Lions head coach.
“In my four Tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” said Gatland.
“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.
“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA ‘A’ last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.
“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come.
“While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We’ll do our best to get the win.”
British & Irish Lions team to take on the Springboks in the first Test of the 2021 tour of South Africa
British & Irish Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Ali Price; 1 Wyn Jones, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 4 Maro Itoje, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 6 Courtney Lawes, 7 Tom Curry, 8 Jack Conan
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Liam Williams