Sharks v British and Irish Lions - teams and prediction
STRANGE TIMES: The Sharks head up to Johannesburg to face the British and Irish Lions in a mid-week tour match.
If that is not outré enough, the game will be played against the backdrop of all the uncertainty surrounding the B&I Lions tour.
The massive wave of COVID-19 cases sweeping South Africa has already forced the ‘postponement’ of one game, is threatening the Springboks versus Lelos Test and has resulted in questions over the venues and dates of the remaining tour matches.
The match between the Bulls and the B&I Lions in Pretoria on Saturday was postponed after four unidentified players and one official from the host franchise tested positive for COVID-19.
There are also doubts whether Friday’s Test between South Africa and Georgia in Johannesburg will go ahead – following positive tests in both camps.
Despite all this, the Sharks and B&I Lions are adamant they are focused only on and geared towards their clash at Ellis Park on Wednesday – the second match on the tour.
The B&I Lions easily dispatched a hopelessly outclassed Johannesburg-based Lions team – winning 56-14 in a match that forced the tourists to change tactics in order to avoid the outing becoming a farce.
B&I Lions defence coach Steve Tandy expects the Sharks to provide a bigger test and make it more of a contest.
He said the Sharks have a young team that plays “a bit more expansive” than what they experienced against the Johannesburg-based Lions this past weekend.
“They [Sharks] have some real lively players in the back three,” he said, adding: “They have a good ball-carrying No.8.
“There is real ambition the way the Sharks play, so we will have to move up the levels in terms of what we do.”
Tandy added that the Test team is still a ‘blank sheet’ and that Wednesday is another opportunity for players to put forward their cases for inclusion in the Test team.
“The training standard is outstanding and – despite all the competition – there is still that help to ensure we are all on the same page.
“It is really, really open for the Test spots.”
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Sharks coach Sean Everitt pointed out that they will be facing the ‘best’ of the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“It is a team of top individuals and a massive challenge for us,” the Sharks coach said.
He added that it will be a good opportunity for his players to measure how far they are off the pace required to become international players.
“We learnt a lot from their win over the [Johannesburg-based] Lions.
“We need to be switched on, because they play at a high intensity.”
Everitt added that the B&I Lions are good at speeding the game up, something South African teams have attempted to implement – with limited success.
“We are not quite there yet,” he said of the ability to play the game at a high tempo.
The Sharks coach also spoke of the physicality of the tourists.
“They do vary their play,” he said, adding: “They can go from a contestable kicking game to a running game.
“They do play what’s on in front of them.
“The most important aspect, because of the quality of the players and their squad, they leave no room for error.
“They have good line-speed on defence and a good kick-chase and they put the breakdown under tremendous pressure.”
For the hosts, the key is “accuracy” and not giving the opposition too much time and space.
“They will play whatever opportunities are given to them, we need to be switched on for the full 80 minutes.”
Players to watch
For the Sharks: Sevens star Werner Kok and rookie wing Thaakir Abrahams could cause serious damage if given the opportunity. However, the key backline player is seasoned flyhalf Curwin Bosch, who must pull the strings and give his team direction. The forwards must lay the platform – with James Venter at the breakdown, while Hyron Andrews and Ruben van Heerden must provide the dominance in the physical exchanges.
For the British and Irish Lions: You can probably list the entire team, but the centre combination of Elliot Daly and Bundee Aki will bring something that the Sharks have not yet experienced. There is also South African-born Scottish wing Duhan van der Merwe to add colour to the clash. The loose trio of Sam Simmonds, Tom Curry and Josh Navidi are pure class.
Head to head
Teams from Durban have never beaten the tourists. The closest they ever came was when Natal drew 3-all with the Lions in Pietermaritzburg in 1924.
2009: B&I Lions won 39-3
1997: B&I Lions won 42-12
1980: B&I Lions won 21-15
1974: B&I Lions won 34-6
1968: B&I Lions won 17-5
1962: B&I Lions won 13-3
1938: B&I Lions won 15-11
1924: Natal and the B&I Lions drew 3-all
1903: B&I Lions won 22-0
@rugby365com: B&I Lions by 22 points
Sharks: 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Thaakir Abrahams, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi (captain), 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Fez Mbatha, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Replacements: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Reniel Hugo, 21 Dylan Richardson, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Anthony Volmink.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Dan Biggar 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Adam Beard, 4 Iain Henderson (captain), 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Tadhg Beirne, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Stuart Hogg, 23 Chris Harris.
Date: Wednesday, July 7
Venue: Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Kick-off: 19.00 (18.00 BST; 17.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Clear skies and virtually no chance of thunderstorms. High of 17°C and a low of 7°C
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)