Emirates Lions v British & Irish Lions
After 12 years of waiting the British and Irish Lions are back on South African soil as they begin preparations for the 3 test series with the Springboks. With all of the complications surrounding the country at the moment, this match will provide the public a welcome distraction. Despite there being no fans in attendance, there has been huge hype and anticipation for local lions supporters who have been looking forward to welcoming their British and Irish counterparts for some time now.
To understand the significance of this fixture, it is important to learn the background of the home side. The proud heritage and history of the Golden Lions Rugby Union stretches back to 1889 and the club has evolved into a modern day brand with significant growth and name changes incorporated within its ongoing transformation. Based at Ellis Park, Johannesburg (one of rugby’s most famous grounds), the Emirates Lions have a long and endearing rugby background. The home side are (8/1) to beat the tourists.
The Golden Lions Rugby Union (GLRU), previously known as the Transvaal Rugby Union, changed to the Lions in 1993, then to the Gauteng Lions in 1997. They were rebranded the Golden Lions in 1998 and now the Emirates Lions represent the professional rugby side of the brand which also comprises an amateur rugby development side called the Golden Lions.
Emirates Lions head coach, Ivan van Rooyen, has a squad filled with experience and youth, epitomised by Francke Horn, who has returned from injury and will be looking to make a big impact. Despite Springbok call-ups and infection scares, the blend of old heads such as Ruben Schoeman, Jaco Visagie, Morné van den Berg. Jannie du Plessis, Jaco Kriel, MJ Pelser, Roelof Smit and Divan Rossouw are complemented by exciting youngsters such as Morne Brandon, Banele Mthenjane, Ruhan Straeuli, Emmanuel Tshituka and Aidynn Cupido.
As for the tourists, having flown south on Sunday evening we can expect to see a raft of changes from those who featured in Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon. Legendary British and Irish Lions figure Sir Ian McGeechan, a member of the ‘invincibles’ touring party that was victorious in South Africa in 1974 and head coach on the 1997 series winning side against the Springboks has always said that he favors blooding a new Lion early. This is a sentiment echoed by current head coach Warren Gatland who has assured the players that everyone will start at least one of the first 3 games on tour. This is a tried and tested method for the New Zealander and one he adopted in both 2013 and 2017 respectively.
With those comments in mind, we can expect an entirely new 15 and a lot of involvement from both players not involved as yet and any newcomers to the British and Irish Lions experience. The Saracens contingent of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Owen Farrell, and Maro Itoje could be joined alongside the Exeter Chiefs line up of Jonny Hill, Sam Simmonds, and Scotland captain Stuart Hogg. All of these, Sale Sharks’ Tom Curry and the injured Luke Cowan-Dickie all joined the training squad late due to club commitments and will be itching to be involved. You can get odds of (1/20) for the tourists to win the first game on South African soil.
Keep an eye on young winger Louis Rees-Zammit. The scintillating 20-year-old has the potential to light up the tour with his lightning pace on the hard grounds of South Africa. Having starred in the six nations and run-in tries on a regular basis for Gloucester, the Cardiff-born speedster will want to lay a marker down for a test place after watching Duan Van Der Merwe and Josh Adams both score against Japan in the first warm-up game.
Previous Meets and Results
History does not favor the home side in this fixture. On the most recent tours, the Gauteng Lions were defeated 20-14 in 1997 and the Golden Lions were emphatically dispatched in 2009 with the British and Irish Lions winning 74-10. After modest success in the recent Currie Cup and rainbow Cup campaigns, the hosts know what an enormous challenge this fixture will be for everyone involved. Match handicaps are available for both sides with the Emirates Lions +20 (10/11) and the British and Irish Lions -20 (10/11) with McBookie.
Having dismantled Japan in Scotland at the weekend, The British and Irish Lions will be both confident and keen to build further momentum ahead of the test series. The 28-10 victory saw Dan Biggar, Taig Byrne, and Jack Conan in particular all excel in an early test for the newly assembled squad. Despite the elation of the win, it came at a cost with experienced two-time tourist Justin Tipuric and tour captain Alun-Wyn Jones both succumbing to tour-ending shoulder injuries before even boarding the plane.
Emirates Lions v British & Irish Lions Prediction
Expect the home side to put in a committed and spirited performance, particularly in the first 20 minutes. If the tourists can get any rustiness or nerves out of the way and play to their potential, they should win by a comfortable margin. British and Irish Lions by 20+ points is a safe bet with Boylesports.