The British and Irish Lions will face the Lions in a fitting first clash on South African soil. The Tour is finally set to get underway as planned after jumping through numerous hoops and the excitement is palpable. Fans will be treated to the returning Springboks on Friday as they face Georgia, before turning their attention to the clash on the Highveld on Saturday.
It is well known that Gatland will give every player an opportunity to start in the first three matches, and the side names for Saturday shows wholesale changes to the team that ran out against Japan. Gatland has now started 28 of his touring party, leaving only 10 players as guaranteed starters against the Sharks, the following Wednesday.
Stuart Hogg goes from benching in the semi-final and final for club side Exeter Chiefs just last weekend. He leads the side from the back and is joined Welsh Speedster Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams who scored against Japan last weekend.
Ali Price links up with the strong running Finn Russell at 9 & 10 whilst Owen Farrell appears on his inside, along with Chris Harris. Daly, Davies and Aki round out the bench and it will be interesting to see if Farrell shifts into the first receiver position as the game progresses. The combination of Farrell and Russell is an exciting prospect and could pose a strong running option for Gatland in the 3 tests later on.
Taulupe Faletua anchors the scrum at 8, whilst Lawes makes the shift from lock to flank for this fixture after coming on early against Japan to replace the injured Alun Wyn Jones. Hamish Watson will be eager to impress to and if his form in the 6 Nations is anything to go by, will leave the men from Joburg with their hands full.
Itoje gets his first game on the tour as he pairs with Jonny Hill in the engine room. Up front the familiar pair of Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler are joined by Wyn Jones whilst Mako Vunipola, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Zander Fagerson back them up of the bench.
The Lions have named a strong side for their first outing in the highveld and the Emirates Lions will have their hands full containing the mobile pack, whilst the running threat of Russell, Farrell and Hogg are lurking in the wider channels. If the British & Irish Lions get their noses ahead early and avoid the impact of altitude later in the game, they should be more than capable of toppling the local side.
Stuart Hogg (c)