British and Irish Lions: Who are Saturday's South African Tour opponents the Sigma Lions?

They kick off the British and Irish Lions Tour of South Africa, and are the weakest team Warren Gatland’s squad of tourists will face – but who are the Sigma Lions?

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The Emirates Airline Park outfit played in the PRO14 Rainbow Cup and will be part of the United Rugby Championship when it launches next season

Here, we take a closer look at this weekend's opponents.

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Background

The Lions - along with the Stormers, Sharks and Bulls - were formerly part of Super Rugby and reached three consecutive finals from 2016 to 2018, losing all three. All South African teams were withdrawn from the competition in 2020 with a view to joining an expanded PRO14, and the formation of the URC - consisting of the four South African sides alongside the existing 12 PRO14 teams - was announced last month, following the Lions' participation in the Rainbow Cup. The Lions, who will be known as the Sigma Lions for the first time this weekend following the announcement of a new sponsorship deal, were a late addition to the tour schedule, replacing the SA Invitational side on the itinerary.

Form

The Lions will be considered the weakest of the teams the tourists will face over the coming weeks after they finished bottom of the South African section of the Rainbow Cup. They managed only one victory from their five matches, although that solitary win came against the table-topping Bulls. That result came a week after the Lions were cruelly denied victory by a late Tim Swiel penalty in a 10-try 39-37 home defeat to the Stormers.

Coach

Head coach Ivan Van Rooyen joined the Golden Lions Rugby Union in 2009, working with the junior sides and Vodacom Cup team until 2011. He became head of strength and conditioning in 2012 and, following a successful couple of seasons as head coach of the Currie Cup team, he was promoted to his current role in 2019. Speaking ahead of the match Van Rooyen said: "This is such a big opportunity for every player involved. There is such a small group of guys who will have the chance to play against players of this calibre in their lifetime, and I hope that they truly take a moment to take it in and savour the enormity of the moment."

Key players

The Lions have contributed only one player to the Springboks squad for the upcoming Test series - uncapped centre Wandisile Simelane. Fly-half Jordan Hendrikse, 20, enjoyed a breakthrough campaign during the Rainbow Cup, while 22-year-old flanker Vincent Tshituka has been tipped as a future Bok. Both men start on Saturday, while Ruan Dreyer and Jamba Ulengo are the only members of the starting XV to have made senior international appearances, although they boast only five caps between them.

British and Irish Lions

The team to face their namesakes, chosen by Warren Gatland for Saturday’s 5pm (BST) kick-off is: 15. Stuart Hogg ©, 14. Louis Rees-Zammit, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Owen Farrell, 11. Josh Adams, 10. Finn Russell, 9.Ali Price.

1. Wyn Jones, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Taulupe Faletau.

Substitutes: 16. Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Zander Fagerson, 19. Iain Henderson, 20. Sam Simmonds, 21. Gareth Davies, 22. Bundee Aki, 23. Elliot Daly.

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