Ex-Gala star Gregor Townsend urging fellow Borderers and rest of Lions’ team today to stake claims for test places
British and Irish Lions attack coach Gregor Townsend is urging fellow Borderers Stuart Hogg and Rory Sutherland and the rest of the side playing DHL Stormers today, July 17, to stake their claims for places in the touring squad’s test team to face South Africa next Saturday, July 24.
Former Gala star Townsend says that because this evening’s game at Cape Town Stadium, kicking off at 5pm, is the last one before the test series begins, it will be the one freshest in his and fellow coaches' minds when they meet tomorrow to pick their 23 players to go up against the Springboks a week later.
The Galashiels-born 48-year-old, at his home-town club from youth level through to 1995 and with the Border Reivers from 2005 to 2007, expects the tourists’ first test team to be finalised by tomorrow night so preparations to play the world champions can get under way the next day.
“It's the last thing that you see as a coach. It can have an influence,” said the Scottish national head coach, only just out of a week in self-isolation after being deemed a close contact of a member of the party tested positive for coronavirus.
“How well players did through the tour, in bigger games, let's say the Japan game, or the game against South Africa A the other night, they are factors.
“The catalogue of what you've done on tour and how you've impressed at training, as well as your consistency throughout the games, will be a factor, but also what you have done the day before we sit down for selection is going to influence us, absolutely. This is the last chance for players to put their hands up.
“Selection is about giving players opportunities, and ultimately it's them who have to take them.
“If players grab them against the Stormers and put in a performance that we believe can help us win that first test, then they’ll be in a strong position.
“It’s obviously a huge game for selection.
“We haven’t discussed test selection at all and we know that’s going to occupy our minds on Sunday.”
Hogg is also making a comeback after a week in isolation due to Covid-19 protocols and he will be captaining the side, as he did against the Sigma Lions for the multinational side’s first game in South Africa on Saturday, July 3.
Talking about Hogg and Robbie Henshaw, sidelined so far by a hamstring injury, Townsend said: “They’ve had less games so it’s about what they’ve done in the games and where we see them fit in with the game we want to play.
“Both of them have an opportunity against the Stormers. It would have been much tougher for them if they hadn't been available for this game."
The Lions are hoping to return to winning ways after suffering their first defeat of the tour on Wednesday, a 17-13 loss to a South Africa A team mostly made up of full internationals.
Townsend returned to the coaches’ box for that game after a week in self-isolation and said it will give all involved an idea of what to expect next weekend.
“Our players have learnt what it’s like to come up against the Springboks,” he said.
“Not many people have that opportunity, and when you do it's a one-off game.
“It's a world cup semi-final for the Welsh guys or a final for the English guys.
“Now they’ve had that experience of what they’re about, the way they’re going to play.
“The Springboks aren’t going to change, we know that. They will be better for the hit-out.
“We felt that seeing where they are strong, maybe where there are opportunities, that's hugely valuable for the group that played, but also for those of us who were in the stadium watching.”
Hogg, 29, and Sutherland, 28, are among seven Scots in today’s 23-strong matchday squad, with Duhan van der Merwe, Ali Price and Hamish Watson also starting and Zander Fagerson and Chris Harris named as replacements.
During his playing days, Townsend took part in the Lions’ 1997 tour of South Africa, taking part in six games, including starts in two tests.
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