It’s big Duhan van der Merwe versus hot-stepping Cheslin Kolbe ... Who’s stopping who?
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DURBAN - Shutting down Springbok match-winner Cheslin Kolbe is a top priority for the Lions in Saturday’s first Test but the Boks face their own challenge in shutting down Kolbe’s opposite number, Duhan van der Merwe.
Lions boss Warren Gatland, speaking after naming Van der Merwe on the left wing in a very strong Lions team, has warned his players to keep the ball away from Kolbe.
“Stopping Cheslin is going to be a real challenge and the best way to do that is limit the possession he gets,” Gatland said. “Cheslin got one opportunity against us in that South Africa ’A’ game and made the most of it. We can’t afford to do what we did in that ’A’ game and kick the ball down his throat. So we hopefully won’t be giving him as much time and space on the ball on Saturday.”
The compact Kolbe could not be built more different to the man lining up opposite him, the 1.9m, 105kg slab of South African beef that is Van der Merwe.
“Look, it’s going to be a challenge for Duhan playing against them (his former countrymen),” Gatland admitted. “I asked him if he knows what’s coming and he is fully aware.
“I presume every time he touches the ball they will be trying to hit him with everything they’ve got. There will probably be some verbals at him as well.
“He’s well aware of what’s at stake but he’s been incredibly relaxed. The way he’s been beating defenders and scoring tries (four in the two games against the Sharks) has given him real confidence after he also finished the top try-scorer in the Six Nations.”
Gatland said selecting his team was the toughest job he has had on the four Lions tours he has been involved with because he was spoiled for choice in most positions.
Gatland’s team will be led by Alun Wyn Jones, the 35-year-old Welshman who has completed a near-miraculous comeback from a dislocated shoulder sustained in the tourists win over Japan in Edinburgh just 24 days ago.
In one of the few certain choices, England’s Mari Itoje joins Jones in the second row.
Elsewhere, Wyn Jones (Wales), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England) and Tadhg Furlong (Ireland) make up the front row.
Courtney Lawes (England) packs down on the blindside flank, Tom Curry (England) is at openside flank, with Irishman Jack Conan completing the loose trio at No8.
At scrumhalf, Scotland’s Ali Price has leapfrogged pre-tour favourite Conor Murray after impressing against the Stormers last Saturday. As expected he partners Welsh flyhalf Dan Biggar.
The midfield comprises Robbie Henshaw (Ireland) and Elliot Daly (England) while the back three is made up of Anthony Watson (England), Van der Merwe and fellow Scot Stuart Hogg at fullback.
“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 again this weekend.”
British & Irish Lions
15 Stuart Hogg 14 Anthony Watson 13 Elliot Daly 12 Robbie Henshaw 11 Duhan van der Merwe 10 Dan Biggar 9 Ali Price 8 Jack Conan 7 Tom Curry 6 Courtney Lawes 5 Alun Wyn Jones (capt) 4 Maro Itoje 3 Tadhg Furlong 2 Luke CowanDickie 1 Wyn Jones.
Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Hamish Watson, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Liam Williams.