British and Irish Lions Tour 2021
Every 4 years the accumulated rugby might of the Northern Hemisphere travels south to take on one of the 3 original teams that participate in the Rugby Championship (or Tri-Nations as it was).
This year it is South Africa’s turn to host the British & Irish Lions Tour. Since the previous tour defeat to South Africa in 2009, the Lions have recorded a series win against Australia in 2013. As well as a draw against New Zealand in 2017. The visitors will be eager to reverse their result from 12 years ago. Current world champions, the Springboks will have a lot to prove as well. Without playing a single test since their 2019 World Cup triumph, the ‘Bokke’ will undoubtedly want to prove that they deserve their world title. With all to play for, we can expect a tightly contested affair.
History between the teams
The first British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa took place in 1891. Since then, the visitors have only won 4 of the 13 series contested. The last time they tasted success was when they won the 1997 tour 2 games to 1. In 2009, the Springboks were reigning World Champions (as they are now for the 2021 tour). And they were eager to right the wrong that was the 1997 tour. The 2009 series contained some additional ‘spice’, as it was England who the Springboks beat in the 2007 World Cup final (as again was the case in the 2019 final). A good few players from that experience were present in the Lions touring squad. They too wanted to make a statement. As it turned out, the Springboks narrowly won the first test 26-21.
The second test was just as evenly matched. It took a huge penalty from flyhalf Morne Steyn to seal the game 28-25. With the series lost, the Lions had only pride at stake for the third and final test. They ran out convincing winners that day (28-9). They will be hoping for more of this energy when the 2021 tour tests begin.
The Lions squad
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the visitors. Without a minute of the tour yet played, there have already been casualties within the squad. Following the team announcement on the 6th of May Andrew Porter, the Ireland prop, was the first player ruled out of the tour with a toe injury. Kyle Sinckler of England has moved in as his replacement. During the warm-up game against Japan at Murrayfield, Lion’s captain Alun Wyn Jones and his Welsh counterpart Justin Tipuric both sustained tour-ending shoulder injuries. The Welsh duo of Adam Beard and Josh Navidi have replaced them respectively. The captaincy has also undergone a necessary change. Experienced Irish scrumhalf Conor Murray has moved in as captain of the squad. As a squad member of the previous two tours to Australia and New Zealand. Murray has the skill to to lead the Lions on tour.
The Lions squad contains a healthy balance of players from each of the home nations. The Lions squad looks well equipped for a successful series. While the form players from the 2021 Six Nations were all selected there were some notable exclusions. They are Irish flyhalf Johnny Sexton and England eighth-man Billy Vunipola. The squad will be counting on the strength of the players selected to do the job for them.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber announced a 46-man squad to consider for the British & Irish Lions tour. Following two scheduled warm up tests against Georgia, Nienaber will cut the Bok squad down to 32 players. Not having played a test since their World Cup triumph in 2019, there will be more than a few cobwebs to be dusted out. Of the victorious World Cup winning squad, the only omissions are the players who have since retired or have ruled themselves out due to injury. Incumbent captain, Siya Kolisi will again lead the team for the series.
Notable exclusions from the squad are in-form Bull’s centre, Cornal Hendriks and the experienced loose forward Marcel Coetzee. There is still a realistic chance of a call up to the final squad. But there are other players ahead of them in the pecking order one would think. The uncapped contingent of the squad includes exciting wingers Aphelele Fassi of the Sharks, and Rosko Specman of the Bulls. They will both be eager to prove that their selection is warranted. Barring injury (or positive COVID cases) prior to the 3 tests, we can expect the best possible team selection for the series.
While most of the developed world has managed to vaccinate large portions of their populations, South Africa is well behind in this measure. Considering the fact that South Africans are currently experiencing the extremely contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 and are firmly in the third wave of the pandemic, there are a few question marks around how this tour will play out. SA rugby and fans of the tour will be hoping that the two squads can avoid positive cases and the associated periods of isolation. The threat of cancelled games is a real one, and one that all role players will be looking to avoid.
There is no doubt that the test series will be a hard-fought affair. The Springboks are determined to prove that their 2019 World Cup success was no fluke. They will want to prove they deserve the number one ranking in world rugby. The Lions on the other hand are eager to emulate the 1997 winning squad that toured South Africa and reverse the loss from 2009. The combined strength of the north versus the current World Champions- the stage is set for one almighty contest. Can Siya Kolisi guide the Boks to a Lions tour victory? Or will it be Conor Murray who returns home victorious? Come the 7th of August, we will know that answer.
Keep the faith
The tour specifics are changing daily with Covid affecting all the teams. But, no matter what is being thrown in the Tours path the powers that be seem to find a way to make it work. Follow the news and updates daily! This it is a constant moving piece and we are all looking forward to the 1st test.
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