The British and Irish Lions play their much-anticipated first Test against South Africa on Saturday, and there are plenty of variables that will determine who comes out on top (Match betting – South Africa 20/21, Lions 20/21, tie 18/1).
Warren Gatland’s men have played five warm-up games in South Africa and are now primed for their first Test match against the current World Cup holders. South Africa haven’t seen too much action since that triumph in Japan in 2019, but their squad contains some of the world’s best rugby players.
The two sides can barely be separated as they prepare to do battle in Cape Town, and we take a look at where the first Test could be won and lost.
Arguably, the Springboks’ strong kicking game won them the World Cup against England with the half-back duo of Faf de Klerk and Handre Pollard ones to watch.
Pollard has kicked 435 points in 49 caps for South Africa, and his return to fly-half will give them a big lift, particularly given how good a partnership he has with the diminutive De Klerk.
The Lions mustn’t give them room to strike and cause mayhem aerially; otherwise, they may be in for a long afternoon.
Wales’s Dan Biggar and Scotland’s Ali Price are the starting half-backs for the Lions, with Gatland opting for the former instead of Owen Farrell.
Stuart Hogg’s inclusion is a big plus, with the full-back capable of booming a number of kicks down the field and putting pressure on the Springboks defence.
The Lions’ extra pack weight could stand them in good stead on Saturday. Alun Wyn Jones’ battle back to fitness is a huge plus, and although it might be a risk, he and Maro Itoje could prove to be a ferocious lock partnership.
Wyn Jones and Tadgh Furlong provide strength at loosehead and tighthead, respectively, while Luke Cowan-Dickie can bulldoze his way to the try line.
Given the talent both sides possess out wide, getting the ball to the wings should be crucial to success.
World Cup hero Makazole Mapimpi, who scored six tries in Japan, lines up with Cheslin Kolbe on the opposite flank (Anytime try scorer – Mapimpi 6/4).
Gatland has elected to go with Anthony Watson and Duhan van der Merwe as his wide options; meaning Welshman Josh Adams is a surprise omission.
The Lions’ extra flair in attack and ability to find space might just see them get over the line in the first Test.