Early test: Lions face Springbok-packed South Africa A team
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Eleven members of the Springboks' Rugby World Cup-winning squad have been selected to start for South Africa A against the British and Irish Lions in Cape Town on Wednesday, giving the tour game the feel of a test before the series begins.
At least 10 of those South Africa A starters are also expected to run out for the Springboks in the first test on July 24 at the same Cape Town Stadium.
The Lions will lineup with tour captain Conor Murray at scrumhalf and lock Maro Itoje and loose forwards Tom Curry and Taulupe Faletau in the pack, all of them contenders to start the test series.
The decision to load the A team with first-choice Springboks comes with the world champions desperate for match practice. South Africa has played just one test since winning the World Cup in 2019 — a 40-9 win over minnow Georgia 10 days ago.
Many of the South Africa A starters didn't even play that game.
The second warmup test against Georgia was called off after a coronavirus outbreak in the Springboks squad and the A team named Monday might have looked even more like a test team if not for more than a dozen South Africa players — including captain Siya Kolisi — testing positive over the last two weeks.
For South Africa A, Springboks playmaker Faf de Klerk starts at scrumhalf and lines up against Murray. Eben Etzebeth starts opposite Itoje in the second row, as they're expected to do in the first test. And Curry comes up against South Africa flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit.
Springboks wing Cheslin Kolbe takes on Josh Adams, the Lions' leading try-scorer on the tour.
The South Africa A backline has five players who started the World Cup final victory over England two years ago; de Klerk, center Damian de Allende and captain Lukhanyo Am, Kolbe and fullback Willie le Roux.
De Klerk, de Allende, Am and Kolbe all missed the test against Georgia and the A game will be their only warmup before the three-test series.
The Lions have had three blowout victories against domestic opposition on their tour, most recently a 71-31 win over the Sharks in Pretoria on Saturday.
For South Africa A, they retained Dan Biggar at flyhalf and moved wing Anthony Watson to fullback. Wyn Jones and Kyle Sinckler will take on Springboks props Steven Kitshoff and Trevor Nyakane in the front row battle.
“Wednesday’s game against South Africa A will be our toughest encounter since we arrived here and we’re looking forward to it," said head coach Warren Gatland. "We expect them to be physical in the contact area and look to test us at scrum time.”
The virus continues to complicate South Africa's planning since a first batch of players tested positive for the virus on the day the squad got together last month. The players have spent most of the last two weeks confined to their hotel rooms.
Kolisi, wing Makazole Mapimpi and hooker Bongi Mbonambi, all first-choice Boks, were among a latest group of six players to return positive tests this weekend, ruling them out of the A game. Head coach Jacques Nienaber tested positive last week. He selected the team but won’t be at Wednesday night’s game.
“We’re pleased to be able to name a quality team with a number of experienced players despite the challenges in the last week, which included the entire squad being confined to their rooms as part of the team’s preventative self-isolation measures,” said Nienaber.
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