The British & Irish Lions will face the South Africa "A" side this evening in what has been dubbed a shadow test. Due to a lack of preparation in the Springbok camp, the side has been forced to use this game as a chance to give top tier players some much needed game time, just over a week out from the 3 test series getting underway. Both sides boast a number of players like to make the run on XV when the test roll around and we take a look at four key battles to watch out for this evening.
Eben Etzebeth v Maro Itoje
Both men are large in stature and enjoy the roll of enforcer within their respective sides. Etzebeth shadows Itoje at 2.03m and 123kg to 1.97m and 110kg, but this doesn't mean he comes out on top. Both players are of world class quality and are always up to drive their pack forward. Itoje is a little more mobile than his South African counterpart and will be lurking in the wider channels, whilst Etzebeth will be tasked with making a nuisance of himself at the breakdown. The last time the two faced each other was in the 2019 World Cup final and you can be sure there is unfinished business between the two giants. Tonight's clash will prove vital in establishing dominance ahead of the test series, and fans should play close attention to the battle between the two.
Faf de Klerk v Connor Murray
The much loved South African scrumhalf comes up against the captain of the British & Irish Lions as both look to establish themselves in the game early. This is arguably the position both sides boast the most depth in and the two 9's will have their work cut out for them, staking their claim for the starting birth in the test side. Faf's tenacity and defensive prowess comes up against the cool, calm and collected Murray. Both players have a strong kicking game and will be relied on by their sides to keep the teams on the front foot with quality service and up & under's to beat the rush defense's both sides boast. They will be looking for a solid platform from their forwards so that they can establish a foothold in the game.
Damian de Allende v Bundee Aki
The two centers both ply their trade in Ireland and are very similar in build and style. De Allende was in fine form for Munster and will set out to replicate that, as he did in the World Cup. Aki has also been in stellar form for the Lions so far and has shown his value with his strong carries and powerful running. It will be a huge contest and clash of the titans in the midfield as they look to give their sides front foot ball. The Springboks have shown a heavy reliance on their 12 to carry the ball up and it will be interesting to see if the Lions deploy Aki in a similar role or look for him to spread the ball more as he has done in the past games. Either way, both players have key roles to play this evening and will be going hard at one another from the first whistle.
Cheslin Kolbe v Josh Adams
Josh Adams has set the B & I Lions tour alight with a huge try haul thus far. The Lions game plan of spreading the ball and exploiting the wider channels has played into his hands, and he has done well to score so many tries, virtually untouched. Tonight's game will be a true test of the players character though as he comes up against the fleet footed Kolbe who has set the world alight since the World Cup two years ago and arrived in SA on the back of two European titles. Kolbe is also an excellent defensive player, adding in his pace, Josh Adams will have to adapt. The two wingers will be relied on heavily in the aerial game, but in the one on one's, the scale has to favor Kolbe ever so slightly. Both are almost definite starters for the test series and fans can delight in the fact that they will see these two lock horns early as the battle out wide looms.
Tonight's game is going to be a huge one for the tour. Despite the on field battle, the mental gain's the winning side will take ahead of the test series will be huge. I expect a very close encounter with the Springboks just pipping it through the boot of tried and tested Morne Steyn as the Lions adjust to the Springboks defensive play after facing much weaker opposition.
Kick off: 20:00 SA
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