British and Irish Lions and Springbok squads announced: Or not?

British and Irish Lions and Springbok squads

The British and Irish Lions and Springbok squads for Saturday’s first Test have been announced. A day earlier than originally planned.

British and Irish Lions and Springbok squads

South Africa:

15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.

Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 19 Frans Malherbe, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Rynhardt Elstadt, 21 Herschel Jantjies, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Damian Willemse.

Lions team:

Stuart Hogg, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Conan,       7 Tom Curry, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Wyn Jones

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

Can these British and Irish Lions and Springbok squads be believed?

At face value, we should probably view these squads with a bit of a question mark over them. It smacks of a chess match between SA Rugby’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus and the Head Coach of the British and Irish Lions, Warren Gatland.

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Some history

Based on Rassie Erasmus’s history of delivering surprises when least expected and the recent sparring in the media between him and Warren Gatland, anything is possible. South African rugby fans will remember Erasmus sitting on top of the Toyota Stadium roof with his coloured paddles, sending “instructions” down to his Cheetahs players. He famously sent Faf de Klerk and Herschell Jantjies out for an extended warm-up ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final, practicing their box kicks. During the game, the Springboks kicked more from the flyhalf position (Handre Pollard) and played a more expansive game than they used getting themselves into the final.

A few inconsistencies

Considering the Springboks – We don’t really know how match fit some of the Springbok players who returned from COVID enforced isolation are. Will some of these players sit on the bench instead of starting? The front row selected struggled against the Lions last week. Would Nienaber and Erasmus take the risk of starting with them again? That doesn’t sound realistic.

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Considering the Lions squad – It seems a little strange that Connor Murray, who was named as the tour captain after Alun Wyn Jones dislocated his shoulder, can now only find a place on the bench. Owen Farrell has a history with the Springbok team and will attract a lot of attention on the field. Using him as a decoy to attract defenders and not as a playmaker would help their suggested pattern of play, which is to play fast and wide. It seems strange therefore that he is not starting in either the 10 or 12 jersey.

Planning time

Why would any team want to reveal their squad and allow modern analysts to pick apart their selections to work out how to attack or defend against them? The same can be said of the “leaked” Lions team selection that was being circulated on Tuesday evening. It just seems a bit too naive to believe that there isn’t a game being played here.

A tale of rugby minds

As much as everyone is looking forward to two teams taking each other on during the series, there is a tale of two rugby men to be told at the end. Both Rassie Erasmus and Warren Gatland have shown that they are not afraid of throwing jibes in the media. It would appear that both are also willing to engage in serious mind games and a touch of smoke and mirrors.

This writer will be enjoying the head-to-head battle of the two rugby minds as much as the battle between the front rows.

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