Stormers in line to face Lions as planned

The scheduled game between the Stormers and British & Irish Lions is set to go ahead on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

On Monday, South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus fronted up to the media in a virtual conference and emphatically stated that his preference would be for a South Africa A team to face the British & Irish Lions in a rematch this weekend.

It was an understandable stance considering that the Boks are desperate to increase their match preparation for the Test series after a widespread Covid-19 outbreak in the camp last week severely disrupted the team’s preparation rhythm.

With just over a week to go until the first Test on 24 July, and considering last Friday’s Test against Georgia had to be cancelled, the Boks have needed to alter their selection plans as this Wednesday’s clash between SA A and the Lions takes on heightened importance.

Erasmus has named a powerful SA A team to tackle the touring Lions, picking what is the strongest available squad as some players remain in isolation and continue their recovery from Covid-19.

However, at the same time that Erasmus emphatically stated that he would “beg” for a second SA A game to take place in order
boost the players’ match fitness and give them the best possible chance to push for places in the Springbok Test team, the question was put to Warren Gatland about whether the Lions would be open to the idea.

During a media conference happening simultaneously, his curt reply was: “We won’t be playing them again on Saturday.”

After these differing view points were voiced on Monday, the Stormers were understandably waiting rather anxiously for some clarity on the way forward, particularly as they had in fact headed into a bio-bubble of their own from last Thursday in order to be available in case they needed to play this Wednesday.

The Stormers would have been miffed if their game against the Lions was sacrificed for another SA A clash, but this website understands that the Cape-based team was informed on Monday night that their fixture would be going ahead as planned on Saturday.

Ultimately, the clash between SA A and the Lions is now shaping up effectively as an unofficial fourth Test, and Gatland said he was pleased to see the strength of the South African side after previously stating “we’ve not been tested over 80 minutes like we need to be” during the first three tour games.

“They’ve gone as strong as they possibly can given that they still have some players unavailable. It’s going to be a good test for us,” Gatland said.

“I probably wasn’t expecting them to be as strong as they are. They’re obviously short of games. They feel like they’re underdone and they’ll need a hit-out or two.

“It helps our preparation immensely. We’ll get a bit of a feel of where we are and what things we need to work on in the 10 days leading into the first Test.”

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Craig Lewis