Alun Wyn Jones and Rónan Kelleher could join Lions in South Africa

Tourists to face strong South Africa A side with 18 World Cup winners in the squad

Rónan Kelleher scored four tries as Ireland beat the USA on Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Rónan Kelleher scored four tries as Ireland beat the USA on Saturday. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

 

Warren Gatland has confirmed that the British & Irish Lions management are considering bringing out Alun Wyn Jones and Ronan Kelleher to South Africa, with a decision on both players to be made in the next 24 hours.

Jones, who was initially named as captain, has made a remarkable recovery from the dislocated shoulder which he suffered in the pre-tour warm-up game against Japan in Murrayfield just over a fortnight ago.

Rassie Erasmus, who has temporarily stepped in as head coach of the Springboks with head coach Jacques Nienaber in isolation after testing positive for Covid-19, mischievously claimed in a press conference that Jones was due to link up with the Lions in the coming days.

Gatland was speaking to the media simultaneously and when asked whether there was any truth in what Erasmus said, admitted: “There’s a possibility. He’s back in training and we’re waiting for the medical reports from him to see what happens with that.”

Gatland added that Jones was due to go through a double session with Wales on Tuesday and intimated that if he does come through unscathed, he will then travel out to South Africa.

The Lions head coach also said a decision would be made on calling up Kelleher by Tuesday in light of concerns from the South African management about frontrow cover, given that “players or replacement players would have to spend a number of days before they could join the squad officially.

“We are just looking at do we need cover at hooker, if we picked up an injury there, and then picked up an injury in training, they were concerned that possibly a game could go down to uncontested scrums. So we might look at making sure we have got some cover in the frontrow in terms of that hooker position.”

Robbie Henshaw has resumed training after recovering from his hamstring injury and will play on Saturday, as should Owen Farrell, whose slight abdominal strain ruled him out of Wednesday’s game against South Africa A.

Conor Murray will lead the side out for the first time since being named tour captain in place of Jones and with Marcus Smith only having arrived on Monday due to Finn Russell being sidelined until the first Test, confirmed that he will also be covering outhalf.

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“Since we arrived in Cape Town, players have switched into a little bit more serious mode in terms of our prep, the edge that we have in training,” said Murray.

“Now, having seen the South African A line-up, it will only sharpen our focus even more. It’s going to be a real battle. It’s almost like a fourth Test. A massive challenge and good prep for what’s to come.”

Badly in need of game time after the cancelation of their second scheduled warm-up encounter with Georgia, the South African A side to play the Lions in Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday (kick-off 7pm Irish time) features 18 World Cup winners in their matchday squad, which will be captained by Lukhanyo Am in the absence of Siya Kolisi, one of those who tested positive for Covid-19.

Five of the team started the Springboks’ sole game since the World Cup, against Georgia last Friday week, namely fullback Willie le Roux, flanker Pieter-Steph du Toit, locks Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth, as well as prop Trevor Nyakane - all of whom are World Cup winners.

Conor Murray will captain the Lions against South Africa A. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Conor Murray will captain the Lions against South Africa A. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Other veterans of Japan 2019 in the starting team are prop Steven Kitshoff, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, wingers Cheslin Kolbe and Sbu Nkosi, and the midfield of Munster’s Damian de Allende and Am. The number 8 Jasper Wiese, who made his Test debut against Georgia, joins Marco van Staden and Du Toit in the backrow.

Morné Steyn, who kicked the penalty which sealed a 2-0 series lead against the Lions 12 years ago, renews acquaintances with the tourists.

The Springboks have named 10 replacements, to be trimmed down to eight closer to kick-off, and the other World Cup winners in the squad are Vincent Koch, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Elton Jantjies, Jesse Kriel and Damian Willemse.

The uncapped duo of hooker Joseph Dweba and lock Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg were also among the 25 players named.

“We’re pleased to be able to name a quality team with a number of experienced players despite the challenges in the last week, which included the entire squad being confined to their rooms as part of the team’s preventative self-isolation measures,” said Nienaber.

Gatland warmly welcomed the South African A side’s selection.

“I probably wasn’t expecting them to be as strong as they are, they’re obviously short of games, but I’m absolutely delighted with the team they’ve put out because that 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.

“Even though it’s a South Africa A team it’s going to be a tough challenge and everything is about winning the Test series and preparing for that. I keep referring back to 2009; when we had the first Test we had played teams that were under-strength in terms of not having the Springboks and we thought we were a little bit better prepared than we were.

“That’s in the back of mind so we’ll get a good indication of where both teams are after Wednesday night’s match.”

Such is the Springboks’ need for game time that Erasmus expressed the hope that the As could replace the Stormers and play the Lions again on Saturday, but Gatland gave that short shrift.

“We won’t be playing them again on Saturday,” he said.

British & Irish Lions v South Africa ‘A’: Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England); Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby, Wales), Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland), Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland), Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales); Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Conor Murray - captain (Munster Rugby, Ireland); Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England), Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Iain Henderson (Ulster Rugby, Ireland), Josh Navidi (Cardiff Rugby, Wales), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England), Taulupe Faletau (Bath Rugby, Wales). Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Adam Beard (Ospreys, Wales), Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England), Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England).

South Africa ‘A’: Willie le Roux; Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am (captain), Damian de Allende, Sbu Nkosi; Morné Steyn, Faf de Klerk; Steven Kitshoff, Joseph Dweba, Trevor Nyakane, Eben Etzebeth, Franco Mostert, Marco van Staden, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Jasper Wiese. Replacements (from): Malcolm Marx, Coenie Oosthuizen, Vincent Koch, Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, Rynhardt Elstadt, Herschel Jantjies, Jesse Kriel, Damian Willemse, Kwagga Smith, Elton Jantjies.

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