Fraser Brown: Lions tours are not just about winning, but showcasing the best of British and Irish rugby - that’s why this is an exciting team selection

I think it would be fair to say that not many would have correctly predicted the starting XV for this weekend’s first Test in Cape Town. The worry was that Warren Gatland would revert to players who had served him well on previous tours, and a game plan that looked to cancel out the Springboks’ low risk, territory-focused style of play. Not this selection.

Cheslin Kolbe produced a moment of brilliance to create South Africa A's second try against Lions. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Cheslin Kolbe produced a moment of brilliance to create South Africa A's second try against Lions. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

Lions tours are not just about winning, but about showcasing the best of British and Irish rugby. A turgid kicking battle is just not in their DNA.

There will be times where territory is king, and the ability to turn defences and pin them inside their own 22 will be crucial. With Elliot Daly at 13, Stuart Hogg at 15 and Dan Biggar and Ali Price as the half-backs, the Lions have more than enough ability to turn possession into pressure. Price’s box kicking has been accurate all tour and provides a reliable opportunity to win back possession from defensive situations.

The combination of left and right-footed kicking options also provides extra opportunities to get in behind South Africa, something which I think the Lions will look to do early on to give Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson and Duhan van der Merwe as many opportunities as possible to counter. South Africa will need to kick well, anything loose and there will be lots of space for that back three to run back, particularly as the game goes on and the big Springbok pack starts to tire.

Duhan van der Merwe is a hard man to stop. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

If the Lions can get front-foot ball from loose South African possession then they've got plenty of forwards who have the ability with ball in hand to play at tempo, shift the point of attack and prevent the back five of the South African scrum being able to slow the ball.

All three Scots in the starting XV are there on merit.

Price has been the best nine on tour by some distance. His all-round game, and in particular his game management, has been brilliant. It is an aspect of his play he has worked hard on and has improved considerably, never more notably than in the rearranged Six Nations match against Wales last October. His control in the last 20 minutes of that game won it for Scotland.

Since then, his ability to control the game from the base of the ruck has continued to improve

Some have questioned the decision to pick Duhan but having played against him for four years for Glasgow against Edinburgh and then been lucky enough to play with him for Scotland I can vouch for his ability. He is simply a freak on the pitch.

He must be the only person on the tour who has not yet been taken down in a one-on-one tackle and his ability to always attract two or more defenders creates space for others. He's unbelievably powerful when he gets the ball. He is always breaking the gain line and I think the Lions will relish having someone of that ability to bring in off the set piece and use as a strike runner and on the counterattack.

I think his inclusion also works well with how the Lions will defend. With Steve Tandy running the defence they will try to get high in that 13 channel and cut off the ball to the outside forcing South Africa back into the heavy traffic. If South Africa are able to move the ball to the edge the Lions will feel like they are relatively comfortable with the pace of Daly, Watson and van der Merwe able to chase down attackers and usher them to touch.

I’m also delighted Hoggy has been picked to start. A player who is arguably the best in the world in his position and undoubtedly one of the biggest attacking threats in the game, but also, a player who is now on his third Lions tour. I know how disappointed he was four years ago when he came home injured from New Zealand before the Tests.

Again, I think Hoggy's inclusion shows you the type of game the Lions want to play - they want to attack the Springboks.

Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson have also got huge roles to play off the bench and I don’t think too many people would have been arguing if both had made the team.

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The Lions will look to start with tempo. They will have to weather the South African storm early on but if they can get to 45 or 50 minutes ahead or within touching distance then they are in with a great chance.

With the pace and power that the Lions have on the bench they will be able to really increase the pace of the game in the final quarter. Both Suz and Mish will have huge parts to play in that.

I don't think the Lions will be too worried about the defeat in the A game. There were maybe a couple of areas of concern and I am sure they have addressed them.

They weren’t really tested in the games against the provincial teams so they would have wanted a proper workout. Of course they wouldn’t have wanted to lose the game but they’ll now have a better idea of the challenge that is coming on Saturday.

For the first 30 minutes the Lions struggled to live with the physicality and the power of the South African A team. It may have been slightly worrying for them at the time but it has also given them a great amount of footage and things to work on.

You know the Springboks are going to be physical, you know the power they’re going to have up front, how they are going to want to play and how hard they hit contacts but it’s another thing to actually feel the ferocity of the Boks. So that A game has been an invaluable learning tool.

The Lions certainly finished the stronger side. It was obvious that the South African guys hadn’t had a lot of meaningful rugby for almost two years and it was also obvious from their conditioning that the Lions players are ready to play for 80 minutes.

South Africa are littered with genuine world class players but there is one in particular who has made fools of the very best in the world. Cheslin Kolbe will be a constant threat and his ability to create from nothing could decide the outcome. You cannot afford to kick loosely to him. if you're kicking towards Kolbe’s wing it’s either got to be high and on the money so you’ve got a chance to compete in the air or hit him as he catches it, or it’s got to go over the touchline so they can't take it quickly.

It’s easy to say it, but don’t get square on him. Chris Harris is a brilliant defender, but he got squared up by Kolbe and was beaten before he could get near. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last to have that done to him.

It will be a tight match and I think it will be nip and tuck for the first 50 to 60 minutes. I can see South Africa going in at half time ahead, having seen the intensity they brought to the A game.

The hosts have got a point to prove. They are world champions, but world champions who have not been able to defend that title since they won it. The Lions should still win. If they can generate some front-foot ball – if their set piece can function well – if they can counter with and get over the gain line then they should have enough, particularly with the power they've got on the bench. The Lions by a score.

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