Stuart Hogg welcomes opportunity to lead by example in first Lions tour match

Warren Gatland to experiment with players in first South African tour match

Lions captain Stuart Hogg during training ahead of the start of their South African tour. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

Lions captain Stuart Hogg during training ahead of the start of their South African tour. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Nothing quite revived the then waning appeal of the Lions quite like the 1997 documentary, if anything even more so for players than supporters. It is evidenced by Stuart Hogg’s engaging excitement at the thought of captaining the Lions for the first time and so emulating the legends who’ve had the honour previously. One Lions giant in particular.

“After watching the 1997 Lions video about a million times and being able to quote about 90 per cent of it, I’d probably say Martin Johnson. I absolutely loved it.

“The thing for me about being captain is that it doesn’t change anything you do. You go out there and be yourself. I’ve never been the one to scream and shout and boss people around, I like to lead by the way I perform.

“I’m very fortunate that within this team at the moment there’s a huge amount of experience and some great leaders, Owen Farrell, Finn Russell, Maro Itoje, Jamie George. I just need to go out there and do my job. If there’s something to be said . . . I’m a very passionate rugby player and I’m hugely excited and honoured for the challenge ahead.”

There’s something about locks being Lions captains, and this is not confined to Bill Beaumont, Willie John McBride or the two-time captain Johnson. Maybe it’s an age thing, but the Exeter and English lock Jonny Hill, who partners a probable Lions captain of the future in Maro Itoje, looked beyond Johnson when reflecting on Lions tours he watched on the screen.

“There’s one guy that stuck out to me: Paul O’Connell. His leadership among the squads that came on tour, I remember watching videos of him. They’re the people I’ve always looked up to, Paul and Martin Johnson and Alun-Wyn Jones as well.

“I’m honoured to be in the shirt that they’ve worn.”

If the Lions are to emulate past legends they’ll need to hit the ground running collectively as well as individually against the South African regional side the Emirates Lions in Johannesburg tomorrow. In the first of just five non-Test matches as opposed to the customary seven of recent tours, the pressure is on the players to make the most of their chances, and ideally while winning.

“It goes hand in hand,” said Warren Gatland. “We want to give everyone a chance and that opportunity and if we can build momentum and play well and gain confidence off that, that’s what we want to achieve.

Different combinations

“It is also about creating some different combinations as well and seeing how they may work out. We are a little bit limited with that in terms of the five games in South Africa and then the Test series. I think the exciting thing from a coaching point of view – I don’t know so much about the players – is just the amount of competition we’ve got in the squad.

“The rest of the players in the squad will get an opportunity against the Sharks and then you’ll see who the loose forward trio will be for next week. Different players will have that chance and the games will come around thick and fast.”

Of the remaining seven Irish players in the 38-man squad, all of whom started in last week’s win over Japan, Iain Henderson and Bundee Aki are on the bench.

Gatland has resisted any temptation to start Conor Murray despite his elevation as captain, while the most eye-catching selections are perhaps the Finn Russell-Owen Farrell 10-12 combination.

Tom Curry is the only player from the original squad not to appear on either 23 so far, while Josh Adams is the only player to start both games.

Next Wednesday’s game against the Sharks has been brought forward by an hour to 6pm Irish time so as to avoid clashing with the second Euro2020 semi-final that night.

The British & Irish Lions team to face Emirates Lions: Stuart Hogg (Scotland, capt); 14 Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), 13 Chris Harris (Scotland), Owen Farrell (England), Josh Adams (Wales); Finn Russell (Scotland), Ali Price (Scotland); Wyn Jones (Wales), Jamie George (England), Kyle Sinckler (England), Maro Itoje (England), Jonny Hill (England), Courtney Lawes (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales).

Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Mako Vunipola (England), Zander Fagerson (Scotland), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Sam Simmonds (England), Gareth Davies (Wales), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Elliot Daly (England).

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