Lions vs Lions: Cubs vs Veterans
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JOHANNESBURG – Ivan van Rooyen made an interesting statement on Thursday when revealing his selection for the British and Irish Lions encounter on Saturday (kick-off 7pm).
The Lions coach made the pertinent point that the tourists probably have more Test caps on average than the median age of his matchday 23. He wasn't wrong.
The average age of his starting XV is 24, while the B&I Lions sport 60 international matches per player. The B&I Lions are heavily favoured to soundly beat their South African namesakes on the weekend, and when you look at the two squads it is easy to see why.
Here, we look at five match-ups where the gap between the Joburgers and B&I Lions is not so much a huge difference, but rather a chasm.
Manuel Rass v Owen Farrell
With Wandisile Simelane with the Springboks and Dan Kriel on the starting bench, Rass gets the start. The 23-year-old is arguably the third-choice outside-centre and you would assume he is in the starting XV because Kriel is not fully fit. He has only played a handful of matches for the Joburgers, and has shown glimpses of his talent. By no means has he overawed in his performances, so Saturday presents a unique opportunity to make a statement.
The Lions inside centre, meanwhile, is a veteran of 97 Tests, and has captained England. A controversial figure in the world of rugby, he is nonetheless one of the best players on the planet. He has an informed boot, and can be extremely aggressive on defence – which has cast him in a villainous role on occasion. He lines up against the much more experienced Burger Odendaal but he will no doubt attack the channels of Rass and pivot Jordan Hendrikse … which brings us to our next match-up.
Jordan Hendrikse v Finn Russell
The Lions flyhalf is the youngest player on the field, with 20-year-old Louis Rees-Zammit 49 days older. The No 10 has only made his senior professional debut this year, so when compared to Scotsman Russell – who has played 55 Tests – he is vastly inexperienced.
Hendrikse will have a massive target on his back as the B&I Lions will certainly put immense pressure on him in defence and attack. Hendrikse has shown maturity that belies his age in the several games he has played for the team, but it will be a huge ask for him to control the match, make the right decisions, and play his natural game with the marauding loose-trio of Taulupe Faletau, Hammis Watson, Courtney Lawes and England lock Maro Itoje hunting him down.
Francke Horn v Taulupe Faletau
The Welsh eighthman is now a grandmaster. He was a part of three Warren Gatland-led teams that won the Six Nations and played in the Lions Test series victory against Australia in 2013, and the drawn series in New Zealand four years later. The 30-year-old has amassed 90 caps, and at one stage was considered the best No 8 in the world. Strong, physical and powerful, he will be a real danger from the back of the scrum.
His counterpart Horn's only international experience was his tenure as vice-captain of the Baby Boks. Horn has a bit of that Warren Whiteley style about him, with the added benefit of being a stronger runner. Many believe that the 22-year-old, who has the added responsibility of being the Lions skipper on Saturday night, is a future Bok. He might have started off slowly at the Lions, but in recent months has begun to show glimpses of his real talent and skills. Having Vincent Tshituka as his loose-forward partner has seemingly been hugely beneficial, freeing up the No 8 to play his natural game.
Sibusiso Sangweni v Courtney Lawes
Sangweni turns 21 later this year, while Lawes is 30-years-old with 89 Test caps to his name. Much like Horn, Sangweni is also a former Baby Bok and is considered a future Bok. He has only started playing regularly for the Lions recently, but on those occasions has shown that he is an abrasive runner, strong with ball in hand and in defence.
Lawes preferred position is arguably at lock, but make no mistake he is a brilliantly versatile player and will be just as comfortable on the side of the scrum. He has played in three world cups, including that famous victory over the All Blacks at the 2019 tournament, and has made six appearances for the British and Irish Lions. At club level he has made 218 appearances for Northampton Saints and has been playing professional rugby since 2007.
Nathan McBeth v Kyle Sinckler
Van Rooyen has huge respect for McBeth and is expecting big things from the loose-head prop in the future, but his selection for tomorrow's match is one of the oddities of the Lions team, especially with Sti Sithole on the bench. Although he has been in the union's setup for years, we arguably haven't seen enough of the 23-year-old to make a definitive assessment.
Sinckler is on the opposite side of the spectrum - we know pretty much all that he is about. During the 2019 World Cup he was instrumental in aiding England to the final, and was considered a danger man to watch out for in that last game. He is considered one of the best scrummagers in the world, and has much to prove after shockingly not being called up at the initial squad announcement, only to receive a reprieve a few weeks later when Ireland's Andrew Porter was dropped due to injury. He was also knocked out in the final in 2019 while playing against South Africa, so this tour could represent a redemption arc for the tight-head prop.
Starting XVs: Sigma Lions v British and Irish Lions
15 EW Viljoen: 26 years-old v Stuart Hogg: 29-years-old (85 test caps)
14 Jamba Ulengo: 31 (One Test) v Louis Rees-Zammit: 20 (9)
13 Manuel Rass: 23 v Chris Harris: 30 (28)
12 Burger Odendaal: 28 v Owen Farrell: 29 (97)
11 Rabz Maxwane: 25 v Josh Adams: 26 (32)
10 Jordan Hendrikse: 20 v Finn Russell: 28 (55)
9 Dillon Smit: 28 v Ali Price: 28 (42)
8 Francke Horn: 22 v Taulupe Faletau: 30 (90)
7 Vincent Tshituka: 23 v Hamish Watson: 29 (41)
6 Sibusiso Sangweni: 20 v Courtney Lawes: 32 (89)
5 Reinhard Nothnagel: 23 v Jonny Hill: 27 (9)
4 Ruben Schoeman: 25 v Maro Itoje: 26 (51)
3 Ruan Dreyer: 30 v Kyle Sinckler 26 (47)
2 PJ Botha: 23 v Jamie George: 30 (62)
1 Nathan McBeth: 23 v Wyn Jones: 35 (157)