Today, for the first time in four years, the British & Irish Lions will take to the field ahead of their tour to South Africa. First up they face Japan at Murrayfield stadium in Scotland. Kick off is at 16:00 SA time and you can be assured the Springbok team and management will be watching the game closely as they look to gather information on the team they will face in a few short weeks.
The Lions last played as a side in their 2017 tour of New Zealand which ended in a series draw. Warren Gatland was at the helm then too, and leads the famous side for the 3rd consecutive tour. Captained by Alun Wyn Jones in the engine room, the team has a strong core of players, backed up by familiar combinations in an effort to get the ball rolling.
Surprisingly there are no English players in the starting XV, however 5 of them are on the bench, including England captain, Owen Farrell. Probably the most contested pairing and positions on the tour come in the 9 & 10 jerseys and today Connor Murray and Dan Biggar get an early chance to lay their claim to them for the tests to come. Finn Russel was not available for this clash and a late change to the match day 23 saw Zander Fagerson ruled out and replaced by Tadhg Furlong in the run on team, whilst Kyle Sinckler takes up the spot on the bench.
Bundee Aki and Henshaw make up the center combination and it will be quite telling as to whether Farrell comes on at 10 or 12 later in the game. Whilst many would like to believe that this first selection is indicative of Warren Gatland's first choice side, there are still many games to come and players will have ample opportunity to stake their claims in the games to come against the domestic South African sides. The first of which comes next Saturday against the Emirates Lions.
Japan have also named a strong side, with 10 of their starting team having featured in their 2019 Word Cup quarter-final defeat to the Springboks. Captain Michael Leitch is included at 6, whilst a South African in the form of Lappies Labuschagne joins him on the flank, with Alfi Mafi rounded out the loose trio. Personally I'm looking forward to the battle between South African born Lions winger, Duhan van der Merwe and Japan's Ferrari Matsushima.
Its been 12 years since the Lions last landed on South African shores, and this weekend marks the start of what is set to be another historic tour. The preparations have been underway and the Lions are ready for their first task, there is no doubt that today will be a spectacle and only add to the excitement ahead of the South African leg of the tour.
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