As far as unexpected bedfellows go, China teaming up with New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty rugby union is one of the more unusual combinations you might come across.

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The two regions have united to form Global Rapid Rugby’s China Lions – a side which has already faced its fair share of trials and tribulations before the season has even kicked off thanks to COVID-19.

Instead of splitting their home matches between China and New Zealand, the Lions have readjusted their schedule to base themselves in New and Australia.

Saturday will mark the new team’s first-ever game, against Fijian Latui, and the Lions side boasts a healthy contingent of players who turned out for Bay of Plenty in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup.

Solomoni Sakalia, Hugh Matenga and Stan van den Hoven will pack down in the tight five and are joined by Southland hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate and Waikato prop Nico Aanderwiel.

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In the loose forwards, captain Hugh Black and Joe Johnston will combine with Ray Tatafu out of Southland.

Waikato centurion Dwayne Sweeney takes the reins at first five, alongside Bay halfback Te Aihe Toma. Outside that pairing, North Harbour’s James Little and the Bay’s Mathew Skipwith-Garland will form the midfield.

Finally, a dangerous looking outside back trio is formed by Pryor Collier, Fa’asiu Fuiatai and Waikato wing Tyler Campbell.

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The Lion Pride… #LetsRoar

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The squad as a whole boasts players from across New Zealand with five of the nation’s Mitre 10 Cup sides represented. Just four players hail from China and none will line up for the Lions in their inaugural match.

Presumably, COVID-19 has had an impact on the composition of the squad too – but that has presented plenty of opportunities for NZ players who didn’t quite make the Super Rugby cut.

A number of players who are currently turning out for Super Rugby sides have also been included in the squad like Chiefs prop Ross Geldenhuys and Blues prop Tevita Mafileo.

The Lions’ first-ever match will take place on Saturday afternoon in Suva, kicking off at 6:15PM (local time). The match will be broadcast on the RugbyPass YouTube channel as well as on the main RugbyPass platform for subscription holders.

China Lions: Pryor Collier, Tyler Campbell, Mathew Skipwith-Garland, James Little, Fa’asiu Fuatai, Dwayne Sweeney, Te Aihe Toma, Hugh Blake (c), Joe Johnston, Ray Tatafu, Stan van den Hoven, Hoani Matenga, Nico Aanderwiel, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Solomoni Sakalia. Reserves: Nic Souchon, Haereiti Hetet, Tevita Sole, Iosefa Maloney, Kohan Herbert, Luke Campbell, Dan Hollinshead, Liam Coombes-Fabling.

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