Lions boosted by decision to stage all three South Africa Tests in Cape Town | South Africa rugby team

The British & Irish Lions have been given a major boost following confirmation that all three Test matches against South Africa will now be played at sea level. The plan had been for the second and third Tests to be played in Johannesburg, but Covid-19 fears have now prompted the entire series to be switched to Cape Town Stadium.

The Springboks traditionally enjoy more success playing Test matches at altitude but after “extensive consultation” with medical experts and with the teams already in their respective “bio bubbles” it has been decided the safest option is for both sides to stay put.

“The data pointed in only one direction,” said Jurie Roux, the SA Rugby chief executive.

“The series has already been significantly disrupted by Covid-19 and a return to Gauteng at this time would only increase the risks. We now have two teams in biosecure environments without any positive cases or anyone in isolation. To now return to the Highveld would expose the series to renewed risk. Everyone wants to see the two squads, at their strongest, play out an unforgettable series over the next three weekends and this decision gives us the best opportunity to see that happen.”

The Lions’ managing director, Ben Calveley, said the tourists were “fully supportive” of the decision, hardly a surprise given the lessons of recent history. In 1997, when the Lions last won a series in South Africa, they won both the opening two Tests at sea level, in Cape Town and Durban respectively.

The touring side may also be privately encouraged by the Bok matchday squad named for Saturday’s opening Test, despite the presence of 21 members of South Africa’s World Cup-winning squad of 2019. At first glance running with the bulls of Pamplona would be less daunting than attempting to evade a power-packed home side but several of the starting Boks have played little recent rugby.

Until recently South Africa’s iconic captain Siya Kolisi and his teammates Makazole Mapimpi and Ox Nché were all self-isolating with Covid-19 and were required to have heart and lung tests to ensure their participation. The six-two forward-orientated bench split, dubbed the “Bomb Squad” at the 2019 World Cup, has also been temporarily deactivated with the Boks’ fly-half Handrè Pollard and winger Mapimpi not considered to have played sufficient recent rugby to justify the risk of having only two backs in reserve.

At No 8, too, the absence of the ultra-physical Duane Vermeulen through injury has prompted a promotion for Kwagga Smith, a very different type of player with a background in sevens. Then there is the fascinating decision to leave arguably the two best props in South Africa, Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff, on the bench and start the game instead with Nché and Trevor Nyakane.

Nyakane was well marshalled by Wyn Jones during the first half of the SA A game last week and, with RG Snyman also out injured and Lood de Jager short of rugby, the Boks will be relying to some extent on muscle memory. The head coach, Jacques Nienaber, made clear, however, that keeping Malherbe and Kitshoff on the bench is a deliberate tactic. “We see our front-rows as a pairing, as a unit,” he said. “We can swap them around and there won’t be any weaknesses.”


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Publish date : 2021-07-20 19:47:00

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