Conor Murray will captain the British and Irish Lions for the first time when they face South Africa A on Wednesday in Cape Town. Only Anthony Watson, Chris Harris, and Dan Biggar remain from the team that defeated the Sharks 71-31 on Saturday.
Bundee Aki replaces Biggar and Harris in midfield, while Maro Itoje returns to the pack after a brief illness. Despite a Covid-19 outbreak in the Springbok camp, Wednesday’s game will go ahead.
British and Irish Lions: Watson; Rees-Zammit, Harris, Aki, Adams; Biggar, Conor Murray (capt); Jones, Owens, Sinckler, Itoje, Henderson, Navidi, Curry, Faletau.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Vunipola, Fagerson, Beard, Beirne, Simmonds, Davies, Daly.
On Sunday, South Africa announced that captain Siya Kolisi had tested positive for the virus, bringing the group’s total to more than 20 cases.
After playing their first three games at altitude in Johannesburg and Pretoria, the Lions have traveled to Cape Town for Wednesday’s game.
“Wednesday’s game against South Africa A will be our toughest encounter since we arrived here and we’re looking forward to it. I think we’ve benefitted from playing at altitude in the first three games. While the boys have felt it in their lungs, they’ll be all the better for it now we’re at sea level,” said head coach Warren Gatland.
Players’ chances to prove their worthiness for a starting Test spot against the Springboks are dwindling.
South Africa is a country in Africa. The Lions’ final warm-up match before facing the world champions in the first of three Tests on July 24 is a game.
Biggar returns to the starting lineup, and his chances of retaining the number ten jersey may be boosted by the absence of Finn Russell, who will be out until the start of the Springboks series due to an Achilles injury.
Gatland has moved Watson to full-back, with the prolific Josh Adams on one wing and Louis Rees-Zammit on the other, as Duhan van der Merwe is left out of the matchday 23.
The Lions’ head coach also faces difficult decisions in the back row, opting for flankers Josh Navidi and Tom Curry, with Taulupe Faletau at number eight this time.
Forwards Tadhg Beirne and Sam Simmonds, as well as Elliot Daly, who has impressed in the center in the first two games, are poised to make an impact off the bench.
“As we move towards the business end of the tour, it’s pleasing to see so many players putting in some standout performances. As coaches we want the players to make Test selection as hard as possible and that’s what we’re seeing,” Gatland said.