British and Irish Lions Tour Preview 2021
Joshua Hughes takes a closer look at the Lions squad and their competitors ahead of their upcoming tour
The long walk back towards the stands saw one of the most decorated players in Lions history reduced. The captain was off with an injury of which the look on his face told a grueling story. Alun Wyn Jones was followed shortly by Justin Tipuric– two players who had shone in the 2021 Six Nations were now contributors to the worst kind of statistics on the Lions tours. They will not be the last and nor were they the first with George North and Andrew Porter having succumbed.
The Japan game was the perfect way to begin the tour, live rugby to give the few fans that were allowed in a sniff of what might have been in a normal year. The Lions looked good under the organisation of Dan Biggar and alongside him newly appointed captain Conor Murray firmly cemented his position as a test starter. Japan, playing their first game since the quarter-final of the world cup had a quiet opening half but finished strong , with the score line not complimenting their second half rally.
The first game of the tour was against the conveniently named Lions – called the Sigma Lions for this match. The starting team was completely changed from the Japan game and showcased the Russell – Farrell partnership for the first time along with starts for Louis Rees-Zammit and Hamish Watson. The Sigma Lions put up a decent fight, however, the final score demonstrated how well the Lions are starting to gel ahead of the first test on 24 July. The real star of the show was Josh Adams, who now has the highest points tally on the tour having scored one try in the Japan game and four against the Sigma Lions. It was a sensational performance from Adams who was one of many in the first game on South African soil putting their hands up for selection.
While the Lions put on a show of flair, the South Africa – Georgia match the night before was at the other end of the spectrum for most of the game. Georgia were, to their credit, in the game from the very start. Fly-half Tedo Abzhandadze slotted three penalties and kept his side in the game at the break. The majority of the Boks tries stemmed from the set-piece with scrum and lineout dominance on full display. After 20 months of no international rugby, questions must be asked as to whether a win over a side ranked 12th in the world really suggests that the Boks are up for the challenge the Lions will bring.
One thing is clear, the team that won the world cup back in 2019 will have some significant absentees and some new faces. The loss of Duane Vermeulen and the retirement of Tendai ‘the beast’ Mtawarira will have an impact on the pack, with the scrum being a crucial component of South Africa’s game. The debut of Jasper Wiese will have turned the heads of Leicester Tigers fans and avid viewers of the premiership as the Boks search for a viable replacement for Vermeulen.
The Georgia match may not have been the most competitive of games but it will have given an insight into how South Africa intends to play this summer and how the Lions might stop them. Both Japan and the ‘Sigma’ Lions proved to be useful games for the Lions as they work to establish a cohesive test team. The challenges of each side are unusually similar as both teams have not played together for some time and are starting from near to scratch (in contrast to the 2007 world cup winning side and the 2009 tour).
All that can be certain is the Lions have the chance to make history – whether it will repeat itself or if a new chapter is written, is firmly in their hands.