SMITH STARTS: Fly-half to make British and Irish Lions debut
Marcus Smith will make his British and Irish Lions debut against the Stormers in Cape Town on Saturday, while Alun Wyn Jones makes a dramatic return to the bench.
Smith, who won his first England cap against the USA two weeks ago, only joined up with Warren Gatland’s squad on Monday after Finn Russell sustained a potentially tour-ending torn Achilles.
The Lions are experiencing an injury crisis at fly-half with Dan Biggar also receiving treatment for a rolled ankle that forced him to withdraw from the team for Wednesday’s 17-13 defeat by South Africa ‘A’.
Owen Farrell replaced Biggar in the starting XV against the shadow Springboks side, having just recovered from a rib problem, meaning there is no specialist 10 cover on the bench.
Ireland centre Robbie Henshaw makes his first appearance since the curtain-raiser against Japan on June 26 after finally overcoming a hamstring complaint, with Stuart Hogg returning from self-isolation to lead the team.
And in an unexpected twist, Jones is included among the replacements following his stunning recovery from a dislocated shoulder.
Jones’ selection comes just hours after Gatland said he would not be available to face the Stormers having only returned to the Lions squad on Thursday.
“It’s an important game as it’s the final chance for the coaching group to see the players perform prior to the start of the Test Series,” Gatland said.
“For the matchday 23 it’s their last opportunity to stake a claim for a Test place, so I expect to see a highly motivated group of players.
“It is particularly pleasing to be able to name Stuart Hogg in the squad. He’s not had much luck on Lions Tours to date, so it’ll be great to see him cross the whitewash again with the captain’s armband.
“I’m also delighted that Marcus will get his first start in a Lions jersey. I’ve been really impressed with his attitude since coming into camp this week; he’s been like a sponge for information.
“Obviously it’s a tight turnaround from Wednesday’s game but we’re in pretty good shape. The South Africa ‘A’ game was a physical encounter – we always knew it would be – but we’ve come out of it pretty much intact and ready to go again.
“We learnt a lot from Wednesday’s game and I hope the defeat will serve us well. There are still some areas of the game we need to tighten up on, particularly reducing our turnover rate.
“Time and again on this tour we’ve had to adapt in the face of the challenges created by Covid-19. I couldn’t be prouder of the staff and the players for the role each of them has played to get us to this point on the tour.”
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