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Preview: South Africa A v The British & Irish Lions

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Preview: South Africa A v The British & Irish Lions

Conor Murray Lions South Africa A

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray is set to lead the British & Irish Lions for the first time as they take on a stacked South Africa A side in Cape Town on Wednesday.

In all there are 18 World Cup winners in the South Africa A squad in what looks set to be the toughest match of the tour so far for the Lions.

That could be exactly what the Lions need after racking up a half-century of points in each of their three matches on South African soil so far.

And it will be Murray, named tour captain following Alun Wyn Jones’ injury in the opening game against Japan, who will lead the side in Cape Town Stadium.

TEAM NEWS

Warren Gatland has made 12 changes from the side that beat the Cell C Sharks 71-31 last time out, with Anthony Watson, Chris Harris and Dan Biggar the only players to retain their places.

Watson shifts to full-back, with an all-Welsh wing duo of Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams look to carry the momentum of their Guinness Six Nations success with them.

Adams has been on fire so far on this tour, with eight tries in three matches, while Rees-Zammit showed his blistering pace with a try in the first clash with the Sharks.

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Scotland centre Harris starts alongside Ireland’s Bundee Aki, while Biggar links up with Murray in the half-backs.

In the pack, Maro Itoje is back after missing the last game through illness, and will combine with Iain Henderson in the second row, while Josh Navidi, Hamish Watson and Taulupe Faletau make up the back row.

Wyn Jones, Ken Owens and Kyle Sinckler complete the starting XV in the front row.

Jacques Nienaber’s side is officially South Africa A, but features a host of players who will likely be first-choice in the Test series including 2019 World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit and Sale scrum-half Faf de Klerk, not to mention Morné Steyn, the man who kicked the winning penalty against the Lions 12 years ago.

ONES TO WATCH

It’s hard to look past the battle in the second row where Maro Itoje will be itching to make up for lost time as he returns to the side. He starts alongside Iain Henderson, skipper in the first match against the Sharks in what could be a precursor for the Test series.

Of course, with Alun Wyn Jones set to make an improbable return to the squad, there will be even more competition for places in the second row.

Itoje and Henderson face a gargantuan task, with Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert, two of the Springboks’ go-to men on their way to World Cup glory in 2019.

Elsewhere Josh Adams has been flying but faces the small matter of Cheslin Kolbe on the wing, while South Africa A skipper Lukhanyo Am should prove a fine challenge for Chris Harris in the midfield.

WHAT THEY SAID

Lions head coach Warren Gatland said: “Wednesday’s game against South Africa ‘A’ will be our toughest encounter since we arrived here and we’re looking forward to it.

“We expect them to be physical in the contact area and look to test us at scrum time. I think we’ve benefitted from playing at altitude in the first three games.

“While the boys have felt it in their lungs, they’ll be all the better for it now we’re at sea level. As we move towards the business end of the Tour, it’s pleasing to see so many players putting in some stand-out performances.”

TEAMS

South Africa A: 15. Willie le Roux, 14. Cheslin Kolbe, 13. Lukhanyo Am, 12. Damian de Allende, 11. Sbu Nkosi, 10. Morné Steyn, 9. Faf de Klerk; 1. Steven Kitshoff, 2. Joseph Dweba, 3. Trevor Nyakane, 4. Eben Etzebeth, 5. Franco Mostert, 6. Marco van Staden, 7. Pieter-Steph du Toit, 8. Jasper Wiese

Replacements: 16. Malcolm Marx, 17. Coenie Oosthuizen, 18. Vincent Koch, 19. Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 20. Rynhardt Elstadt, 21. Herschel Jantjies, 22. Jesse Kriel, 23. Damian Willemse, 24. Kwagga Smith, 25. Elton Jantjies

The British & Irish Lions: 15. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) #816, 14. Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby, Wales) #846, 13. Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) #844, 12. Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland) #837, 11. Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales) #836, 10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) #821, 9. Conor Murray – captain (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #790; 1. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales) #842, 2. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) #829, 3. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) #814, 4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) #825, 5. Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland) #808, 6. Josh Navidi (Cardiff Rugby, Wales) #854, 7. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) #853, 8. Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales) #779

Replacements: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England) #851, 17. Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England) #787, 18. Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) #848, 19. Adam Beard (Ospreys, Wales) #852, 20. Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #838, 21. Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England) #849, 22. Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales) #850, 23. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) #822