Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan named in starting Lions team

Tadhg Beirne and Conor Murray among replacements for first Test against Springboks

The British and Irish Lions prepare for Saturday’s first Test match against South Africa. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

The British and Irish Lions prepare for Saturday’s first Test match against South Africa. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

The British and Irish Lions team to face South Africa in Cape Town Stadium on Saturday (kick-off 5pm) has fallen along the lines that were were widely anticipated as of yesterday, if not before then.

As forecast, Alun Wyn Jones completes his remarkable recovery from the dislocated shoulder he suffered against Japan four weeks ago to lead the tourists in a side featuring three Irish players, Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong and Jack Conan.

In only one respect does the match-day squad differ from the ‘23’ that was forecast, with a 5-3 rather than 6-2 split on the bench to accommodate Liam Williams rather than an additional forward. Iain Henderson thus misses out, with Tadhg Beirne and Conor Murray among the replacements.

Williams, who departed in the 14th minute of the defeat by the South African ‘A’ side in Cape Town last Wednesday, misses out on a starting place in the back three where Anthony Watson wins his fourth Lions Test cap on the wing alongside the Scottish pair of Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg.

Henshaw is partnered by Elliot Daly in midfield, while Ali Price’s good form has seen him selected ahead of Murray alongside Dan Biggar at halfback.

Wyn Jones and another in-form player in Luke Cowan-Dickie join Tadhg Furlong in the frontrow, while Jones will renew his partnership of the last two tests in New Zealand with Maro Itoje.

Courtney Lawes, a replacement in those two tests, starts at blindside alongside Tom Curry and Jack Conan.

Alun Wyn Jones will win his 10th-successive Test cap for the Lions in Cape Town, moving him into an illustrious list of Lions legends to have made 10 Test appearances or more, including Gareth Edwards (10), Graham Price (12), Mike Gibson (12) Dickie Jeeps (13) and Willie-John McBride (17). Jones is the first, however, to play 10 Tests for the famous touring side since Price in the late 70s and early 80s.

The team’s captain has only had 25 minutes’ rugby since the Japan game, and of four other ever-present starters from the New Zealand tour four years ago, Murray and Farrell make the bench, with Mako Vunipola and Taulupe Faletau missing out altogether.

Despite winning the Six Nations, Wales have only three starters, the same as Scotland and Wales. England, despite losing to their three Celtic rivals for the first time in the same campaign in 45 years, provide six starters.

“In my four Tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in,” said Gatland.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.

“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA ‘A’ last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.

“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come,” Gatland said.

“While the stands will be empty in Cape Town Stadium, we know Lions fans from across the home nations will be cheering us on back home. We’ll do our best to get the win.”

The much-anticipated clash against the reigning world champions is the first of three Tests matches in the Castle Lager Lions Series to be shown live and exclusively on Sky Sports.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: Stuart Hogg; Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong; Alun Wyn Jones (Capt), Maro Itoje; Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams.

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