Gregor Townsend absent but still has an input as Lions prepare for toughest test so far

The British and Irish Lions’ credentials as a side capable of winning a Test series will be given a thorough examination when they face a super-powered South Africa A side in Cape Town on Wednesday evening.

The Lions face a tough match against South Africa A after the three high-scoring wins against understrength provincial sides. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
The Lions face a tough match against South Africa A after the three high-scoring wins against understrength provincial sides. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

The tourists’ coaching team is looking forward to the challenge after three matches against provincial teams deprived of their Springboks internationals.

Warren Gatland’s side scored a total of 181 points in those games but tries are likely to be harder to come by on Wednesday evening against opponents who boast nine World Cup winners in their starting XV.

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The Lions’ preparations have been hampered by last week’s Covid outbreak in the camp and attack coach Gregor Townsend remains in isolation.

Neil Jenkins, the Lions kicking coach, said Townsend continues to have an input and the clarity of his message has not been diluted by his working remotely.

“Gats leads everything, as he always does anyway, Steve [Tandy], myself and the players – we’ve got some fantastic players here who can lead from the front both on and off the pitch. Certainly, our decision-makers and our 10s are experienced players and they can take a fair bit of responsibility as well.

“It is everyone linking in, everyone helping out, the same as they always do – it is no different really.

“Of course, we’d love Gregor here, there is no doubting that, and he will be here pretty soon – but we’ve got everyone chipping in and giving their own input in the right way.

Gregor Townsend, the Lions attack coach, is isolating. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images

“There was always a possibility that something like this could happen, and it has happened, but we like to think that we’ve gone about our business pretty well and we’re looking forward to being ready to play tomorrow night.”

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Jenkins thinks the strength of the opposition can work in the Lions’ favour, contrasting the situation with the 2009 tour of South Africa.

“Certainly 12 years ago some of the games were a little bit easier than we would have liked and I think we got the shock of our lives in the first Test against South Africa.

“It took us a half to get into this game and realise what we are up against, but we certainly know what we are up against on this trip. There is no doubting that they are a fantastic team, fantastic players and well coached, which is why they are world champions. So, tomorrow is going to be a good marker for both sides.”

The Lions lost the first Test in 2009 and went on to lose the series but the current South Africa squad have been badly handicapped by Covid and have played just one Test since their 2019 World Cup win.

The whole squad spent last week confined to their hotel rooms following the latest outbreak. Lukhanyo Am, the centre who will captain South Africa A against the Lions, said it has left them rusty.

“We couldn’t do much during the six days of quarantine. In terms of physical readiness, the most we could do was stretching and basic workouts in your room. In terms of the mental side, we did a lot of preparation via Zoom meetings, and analysis on our phones and laptops - but that’s pretty much all we could do.”

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