The last few weeks have shown the farcical element of the British and Irish Lions touring covid hotspot South Africa.
I, like many people, see no point in robbing fans the opportunity to see it live. The desperate South African economy that could do with the bolstering tourism investment a Lions tour brings.
But just as I was losing interest in this tour, it has spiced up with the SA ‘A’ fixture being dubbed an unofficial first Test.
Jaques Nienaber desperately tried to get the Springboks ready for the series, having seen their second Test against Georgia cancelled and a bulk of their squad testing positive.
Even more intriguing is the uncertainty around the Stormers-Lions fixture scheduled for Saturday. Rassie Erasmus wants the ‘A’ side to play the Lions again and has described it as the safest option given the fragile bio-secure bubbles.
The South Africa ‘A’ squad was initially meant to be made up of fringe players selected in Nienaber’s original 46-man squad. The disruptions mean that this over-strength A team will have a first hand chance to really have a go and lay down a physical marker against the Lions.
Across the battlefield there are mouth-watering battles with a lot of history. This will be Maro Itoje’s first taste of South African aggression since the World Cup final.
Can he beat Eben Etzebeth in the enforcer role? Josh Navidi, chief Springbok pain maker is there, with Tom Curry in a scintillating 6-7 duo.
These lighter, albeit top-class flankers will be up against a fitter, sharper Pieter Steph Du Toit. Louis Rees- Zammit will finally be tested by a bombing from Steyn and Faf De Klerk while Aki’s physical showing is a vital chance for him to show he fits in Warrenball tactics of playing the crash ball 12 against the best defensive centre partnership in the world.
I worry for Mako Vunipola if he comes on since his scrummaging has looked very average against average South Africans, now he faces the best and most ruthless scrumming props in the world.
A few days ago I thought and hoped this Lions tour would get called off. Now, there is added spice and all to play for in this unofficial, grudge match to lay down a marker for the series ahead.
SA ‘A’: Kitshoff, Dweba, Nyakane, Etzebeth, Mostert, Van Staden, Du Toit, Wiese; De Klerk, M Steyn, Nkosi, De Allende, Am (c), Kolbe, Le Roux
Replacements: Marx, Oosthuzien, Koch, Janse Van Renseburg, Elstadt, H Jantjies, Kriel, Willemse, Smith, E Jantjies
British and Irish Lions: Jones, Owens, Sinckler, Itoje, Henderson, Navidi, Curry, Faletau; Murray (c), Biggar, Adams, Aki, Harris, Rees-Zammit, Watson
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Vunipola, Fagerson, Beard, Beirne, Simmonds, Davies, Daly