After four long years since the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand, it’s almost time for the side to battle South Africa. Now the squads are finalized and the warm-up games are complete, the countdown to the first test on Saturday 24 July is well underway.
So, with this in mind, what factors will impact the three-test series this time around? Let’s examine some of the main talking points.
#1 How fit is Alun Wyn Jones?
Alun Wyn Jones has been a talisman for the Lions for more than a decade and he’s the captain of the touring outfit. However, he dislocated his shoulder in a warm-up match against Japan and many presumed the injury would rule him out for the entire tour.
Miraculously, he’s not only joined the touring party in South Africa after making a full recovery in only 23 days, but he’s also been named in the starting XV for the first test. That said, the notoriously physical Springboks will likely target him with some tough tackles to make sure he’s 100% fit. If he isn’t, Warren Gatland could have some big selection decisions to make.
#2 Are the Springboks match ready?
The Springboks might be the champions of the world, but they’re short on match practice. Since the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the side have only managed to play one test match. Plus, in the last three weeks, they’ve had more than 20 positive Covid-19 cases.
All this suggests that South Africa may be a little undercooked and lacking in match sharpness. However, they did handily defeat Georgia 40-9 earlier this month in a warm-up game and their captain Siya Kolisi has been declared fit.
Due to this, it seems likely that the Lions will look to start quickly in the first test, before South Africa begin to grow into the series as it progresses. If the Springboks win the first test, the Lions may face an uphill task.
#3 Will the Lions roar without fans?
A Lions tour is a highlight of the rugby calendar. Every four years, thousands of Brits travel to the southern hemisphere to roar on the side. As a result, several past players and captains have commented on how much of a difference the fans make to the side’s chances.
However, due to Covid-19, all three tests are going to be played behind closed doors. When the going gets tough in crunch time, it will be interesting to see how the Lions react to a sea of empty seats rather than a raucous crowd backing them.
With only a couple of days to go until the series begins, we can’t wait to see how the teams match up. One thing is for certain, it looks set to be a series for the ages.