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Lions make 13 changes to starting XV for historic Sharks rematch

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has made 13 changes to his Lions starting XV for Saturday’s rematch versus the C Cell Sharks in Pretoria. The Lions comfortably defeated the Durban-based South African franchise 54-7 on Wednesday in Johannesburg and it was announced on Thursday that there would be a rematch this weekend to fill the void of the virus-hit Bulls being unable to fulfil the originally planned July 10 fixture.

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Not that the Lions have been virus-free themselves. Wednesday’s day of Covid testing chaos in Johannesburg placed that night’s match versus the Sharks into jeopardy and it only went ahead after Gatland was forced to make eight late changes to the matchday 23 he had originally announced on Monday.

Those alterations resulted in Gatland not being able to fulfil his hope for all 37 players in the Lions squad to start at least one match across the opening three games. Eight players did make their first starts against the Sharks but both Anthony Watson and Gareth Davies were forced to pull out, leaving them both without a tour start yet.

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RugbyPass Fanzone on whether the Lions tour will be cancelled
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RugbyPass Fanzone on whether the Lions tour will be cancelled

They will now get their chance in Saturday’s rematch after Gatland unveiled a starting XV in which Elliot Daly and Duhan van der Merwe are the only repeat starters from Wednesday night. Meanwhile, hooker Jamie George becomes the fourth matchday skipper of the 2021 tour following Alun Wyn Jones, Stuart Hogg and Iain Henderson. Current tour captain Conor Murray is on the bench this Saturday.

The latest selection sees the free-scoring Josh Adams, the only player to start all three Lions matches so far, given a well-deserved rest. Also rested are Bundee Aki, Owen Farrell, Ali Price, Henderson and Taulupe Faletau, the five players who also featured in all three games with a mixture of starts and appearances off the bench. The two players who have not featured in either of the matchday 23s versus the Sharks are Robbie Henshaw and Hogg.

The Friday afternoon team announcement – which features five English, four Scottish and three from both Wales and Ireland in the XV – came after the tour PCR screening programme returned a negative set of results from Friday morning testing. On Wednesday, one member of staff tested positive for Covid-19. As a result, the individual and four close contacts are still being isolated at the team hotel. In contrast, the player who initially produced a positive on Wednesday has since tested negative twice, allowing him and his self-isolating contacts to become available for selection against the Sharks.

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“It’s obviously been a slightly turbulent week, but we remain determined to keep rolling with the punches,” said Gatland. “In many ways, the challenges we have faced this week have strengthened our resolve to do everything we can to overcome the challenges created by covid. The feeling in the camp on Wednesday night was just to give it a crack – I was really proud of how everyone reacted, particularly the matchday squad who would have never prepared for a game like that before.

“Saturday is another opportunity to see how the boys go and for us as coaches to try out a few more combinations ahead of the Test series. I have long been an admirer of Jamie’s leadership skills, so I am delighted to name him skipper. We want to pass on thanks to the Sharks boys for fronting up and going again on Saturday. That’s the spirit of rugby, and a great chance for them to have another shot at us.”

The Sharks, meanwhile, have made eleven changes to their starting XV. Skipper and No8 Phepsi Buthelezi is the only forward from the midweek game who has been asked to start again, with scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse and wingers Thaakir Abrahams and Werner Kok the three repeat selections in the backline – although Kok will start on this occasion at outside centre.

LIONS (vs C Cell Sharks, Saturday)
15. Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales) #833
14. Anthony Watson (Bath Rugby, England) #816
13. Elliot Daly (Saracens, England) #822
12. Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) #844
11. Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #841
10. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales) #821
9. Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales) #850
1. Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland) #840
2. Jamie George – captain (Saracens, England) #819
3. Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #818
4. Maro Itoje (Saracens, England) #825
5. Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England) #845
6. Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #838
7. Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) #847
8. Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland) #839

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Replacements:
16. Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales) #829
17. Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales) #842
18. Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England) #814
19. Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England) #826
20. Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England) #849
21. Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England) #853
22. Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland) #790
23. Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland) #835

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Lions make 13 changes to starting XV for historic Sharks rematch

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