The British and Irish Lions travel to Cape Town Stadium on Saturday looking to land the first blow against hosts South Africa in the first of their three summer Tests.
Lions coach Warren Gatland has highlighted his squad’s depth and competition for places with a number of surprise picks as the Lions opt for form over reputation in an effort to overcome the Springboks’ suffocating defence.
Alun Wyn Jones will captain the Lions on Saturday, while Ali Price, Elliot Daly, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Courtney Lawes all start.
Jones’ start in the second row completes his remarkable recovery, having injured his shoulder in an apparent dislocation playing for the Lions vs Japan at Murrayfield on June 26.
The Wales skipper was ruled out of the tour at that stage, and despite having missed all tour matches – apart from 27 minutes vs the Stormers on Saturday – Warren Gatland has drafted him straight back in for his 10th Lions Test in succession.
Scotland’s Ali Price has been picked to start at scrum-half ahead of Ireland’s Conor Murray, with Gatland demoting Murray from tour skipper to a replacement in the space of less than a week.
Elliot Daly starts the Test at outside-centre, having previously started just once at centre in a Test throughout his career – five years ago for England in 2016.
Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg has been picked to start at full-back ahead of Wales’ Liam Williams – who will provide back-three cover from the bench – in what will be the Scot’s first Lions Test on his third tour.
England’s Anthony Watson and Scotland’s Duhan van der Merwe have been picked to start on the wings, with the free-scoring Josh Adams omitted from the squad.
Welshman Wyn Jones starts at loosehead over Scotland’s Rory Sutherland and England’s Mako Vunipola – who fails to make a Lions Test squad for the first time in three tours.
Exeter’s Cowan-Dickie plays at hooker, while Wales’ Ken Owens takes the replacement slot with Ireland’s Jack Conan starting at No 8 and fellow Irishman Tadhg Furlong selected at tighthead with England’s Kyle Sinckler on the bench.
Maro Itoje partners Jones in the second row, while Courtney Lawes will start at blindside flanker meaning that Hamish Watson is relegated to the bench.
Experienced half-backs Owen Farrell and Conor Murray are forced to settle for bench roles, while veterans of past Lions tours Taulupe Faletau, Mako Vunipola and Jamie George miss out on the 23 altogether as big-name casualties.
“You can’t go into a match against South Africa without knowing that you have to match their physicality because you can’t allow them dominance,” Gatland said.
“Test match rugby is all about the physical battle and that doesn’t change, but it’s also about being smart and when those attacking opportunities come we have got to be able to capitalise on them.
“We are in a great position from a conditioning point of view, so we are not going to fall away. We think as the game goes on we are going to get stronger and stronger.
“We are going to be in an arm wrestle but we are confident we can work through that. You’re not going to get everything your way in a Test match but there are times when you will have some ascendancy and we think we can capitalise on that.”
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