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South Africa v Lions exact score predicted as experts agree Gatland’s side can’t afford to lose

It’s time for the talking to stop this weekend as the Lions finally get it on with South Africa in Cape Town.

The two will go head-to-head in the first of three matches, with the Lions looking to claim their first series win in South Africa since 1997.

Warren Gatland’s side have dispatched the club sides that have been put before them with relative ease but slipped up against an extremely potent South Africa ‘A’ side.

But the warm-up games mean little now as the first Test is upon us.

Here’s how our rugby writers think things will go.

READ MORE: Scott Gibbs predicts convincing Lions win

READ MORE: Lions publicly accuse World Rugby of lack of foresight

Ben James: The Lions won’t recover if they lose

Just as it’s been Warren Gatland’s toughest selection with the Lions, this is perhaps the toughest prediction anyone has faced in a long time.

To say the Springboks have been short on action in the 600-odd days since winning the World Cup is something of an understatement, but the Springboks are settled in their gameplan. It’s painstakingly physical, but it’s also incredibly smart – particularly in defence.

Fitness might be an issue late on, but South Africa will bring one heck of a challenge to the Lions.

Just as it’s hard to judge how well the Boks will show up, it’s hard to know exactly how prepared the Lions are.

They lost their only true challenge against South Africa A, but it certainly felt they were pulling punches as the Lions never once looked to show their hand when it came to scrum or lineout moves.

I can’t say with any confidence whatsoever that the Lions will win – particularly if they start slowly like they did against the Boks’ shadow team.

But, crucially perhaps, victory means more for them than South Africa this weekend.

Lose and it’s hard to see them coming back in the second Test. For that reason above all else, I think the Lions might just nick it.

South Africa 21-23 Lions

Mark Orders: Lions must win the arm wrestle and stop Faf de Klerk

It’s almost too close to call.

Stacked in the Lions’ favour is that South Africa are likely to be under-cooked, having played just one Test since the last World Cup, and have a number of players who have spent time on the sidelines because of illness and injury.

Warren Gatland also has enviable depth at his disposal — it’s been called the strongest bench in recent Lions’ history.

It will need to be.

In naming Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe on their bench, the Springboks have in effect created a Bomb Squad from a pool of five forward replacements. The trio’s introduction around the 50-minute mark will test the Lions’ scrummaging strength.

Marx, actually, will examine their quality at the breakdown, too, with his renowned ability to pilfer ball.

The expectation is that South Africa will look to impose themselves physically — why break with more than a century of tradition? — see how the Lions cope under the high ball and set out to dominate the breakdown contest.



Lions skipper Alun Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje

Tom Curry is going to need to step up at openside but he’ll need support from the likes of Luke Cowan-Dickie, Wyn Jones, Maro Itoje and Jack Conan, all of whom will be required to compete for turnovers.

It wouldn’t be the worst idea for the Lions to shackle Faf de Klerk, too, as the scrum-half is the man who gives the Boks tempo.

This is elite rugby and we are about to find out whether the likes of Ali Price and Duhan van Merwe can thrive at this level. Van der Merwe’s contest with the magical Cheslin Kolbe will be important, but it will be the duel up front that will be decisive.

Win the physical battle and win the game, the old adage goes.

That’s the challenge for the Lions.

South Africa 21-18 Lions

Simon Thomas: ‘Boks to win it in the air and at the breakdown

When I look at the Lions starting XV, two areas in particular concern me – the aerial battle and the breakdown.

We know how much the ‘Boks are going to kick. Warren Gatland is expecting them to do so up to 40 times on Saturday, with Faf de Klerk leading the onslaught.

As such, the absence of Liam Williams and Josh Adams is a concern. Williams is excellent under the high ball, while Adams has shown his prodigious leap both in claiming cross kicks and when tested in defence.

One can expect a bombardment to head the way of Duhan van der Merwe.

Turning to the breakdown, the best player over the ball in the squad, Tadhg Beirne, is restricted to the bench, along with another arch scavenger, Hamish Watson, while the outstanding ruck clearer, Josh Navidi, isn’t in the 23.

Gatland has, instead, gone for size and physicality in the back row, particularly with Lawes at 6.

As a result, Tom Curry will have his work cut out at the breakdown and will need all the help he can get from Cowan-Dickie, Wyn Jones and Itoje against the likes of Kwagga Smith and hooking pair Bongi Mbonambi and Malcolm Marx, while Pieter-Steph Du Toit can be a one-man ruck wrecker in defence.

These two areas of concern are the main reasons I go for South Africa to win.

South Africa 25 – 20 Lions



South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber and captain Siya Kolisi

Matt Southcombe: Springboks to tire

When you get two teams of this quality going at it, things become very difficult to predict.

The game is going to swing on the small margins and, unfortunately, probably some refereeing decisions – although you hope it doesn’t come down to South African TMO Marius Jonker!

Hosts should always be the favourites on these tours for the obvious reason that they are far more familiar with each other than the Lions team that has been thrown together a few weeks previously.

The Covid situation has changed that slightly and South Africa’s preparations have been significantly hampered heading into this one.

There has been talk of Warren Gatland holding some things back during the South Africa ‘A’ clash and you hope for his sake he has because it was not a convincing performance by any stretch.

Although what we did see was a team stacked with Springbok first-teamers tire towards the end of the match.

The Lions’ best chance is to play with tempo, keep the ball in play and run their hosts off the field, which probably speaks to the selection of Ali Price over Conor Murray at scrum-half. Given their preparation for the match, you’d expect Jacques Nienaber’s team to begin to run out of steam come 60 minutes.

If it becomes a staccato, set piece-orientated game, South Africa – though there is more to them than this – are likely to come out on top. The Springboks will also be licking their lips at the sight of Elliot Daly, Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg defending wide channels. That corridor has to stand firm because it will be targeted.

This is the first Test match of any real intensity that South Africa have played since the Rugby World Cup. It would take an almighty effort from them to stay the course.

I can’t see the Lions coming back to win the serious from 1-0 down but South Africa will get stronger in the coming weeks.

South Africa 16 – 23 Lions

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