On Wednesday, the British and Irish Lions were given a harsh reality check.
Coach Warren Gatland has insisted that he deliberately kept his team on a leash before the first Test, and that the 17-13 loss to South Africa A would be beneficial to his players, but there is no denying the obvious.
Nothing but a convincing win against the Stormers will be acceptable as the tension has ratcheted up with verbal barbs exchanged between the two camps.
Date, kick-off time and where to watch
British and Irish Lions vs Stormers is at 5pm UK time today, July 17, 2021, and will be live on Sky Sports Main Event and Sky Sports Rugby.
Highlights will be available on All4.
The impressive Cape Town Stadium, built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, will host its second match of the Lions tour.
Much was made about the possible advantage the Springboks may have enjoyed had more games been played at altitude. But with a third wave of Covid-19 ripping through the province of Gauteng where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located, all future games will likely take place within a stone’s throw of the Atlantic Ocean.
This could work in the Lions’ favour. Towards the closing stages of the defeat to what was essentially a Springbok team in all but name, the tourists looked the sharper of the two teams.
Marcus Smith will don the red of the Lions for the first time after his late inclusion in the squad this past weekend. It’s been a momentous fortnight for the 22-year-old who helped drive Harlequins to glory in a pulsating Premiership final and also debuted for England. Now, his talents will be on show with an electric backline behind him.
Stuart Hogg will skipper the side. The Scot has played just one game on the tour and is making a return from an enforced isolation due to a Covid-19 concern. He was the firm favourite to start the first Test but now must prove his match sharpness, particularly as Anthony Watson impressed in mid-week.
Robbie Henshaw has recovered from a hamstring injury and will partner Elliot Daly in midfield. Duhan van der Merwe, already with four tries on the tour, shelled the ball three times in the win over the Sharks last Saturday. Quite clearly a prolific finisher, he is prone to error. Nothing but a perfect performance will see him edge his way into the starting XV for the Boks.
In the forwards, one name stands out. Alun Wyn Jones has completed a comeback to rival Lazarus. A dislocated shoulder against Japan in June all but ended his hopes of a fourth stint with the Lions. But the 35-year-old successfully navigated a training session with Wales, hopped on a last-minute flight to South Africa and is once again in the mix.
“We wouldn’t have brought him out unless he was 100% fit,” Gatland said.
The man in charge also sent a message to those on the fringes: ““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.
“The Test selection is probably fluid in terms of 60% - 70%. We have got some thoughts on where we are and we want to see some other players have another hit out this weekend and have a look at some combinations.
“There are a few guys who aren’t involved who we are pretty happy with, but it is still an opportunity for the side on Saturday to stake a claim.”
Lions team: Stuart Hogg (c) (S), Josh Adams (W), Elliot Daly (E), Robbie Henshaw (I), Duhan van der Merwe (S), Marcus Smith (E), Ali Price (S), Rory Sutherland (S), Luke Cowan-Dickie (E), Tadgh Furlong (I), Adam Beard (W), Jonny Hill (E), Tadgh Bernie (I), Hamish Watson (S), Jack Conan (I)
Replacements: Jamie George (E), Mako Vunipola (E), Zander Fagerson (S), Alun Wyn Jones (W), Sam Simmonds (E), Garteh Davies (W), Chris Harris (S), Louis Rees-Zammit (W)
Collectively there is nothing that the Galtand and the Lions will be overly concerned by.
Such is the nature of this tour that whatever collection of players took the field wearing blue and white would not constitute much of a challenge for the best of the British Isles.
Even so, there is enough quality littered about to at least offer some testing moments.
Seabelo Senatla is one of the best finishers in world rugby. A legend of the sevens circuit with 203 appearance and 1,120 points for the Blitz Bokke, he barely needs half a gap to weave his magic.
Though not a like for like replacement with Cheslin Koble, should he find some space to run Gatland may have a better understanding on how his back three deal with the threat of pace as Sergeal Petersen and Rikus Pretorius are also fleet-footed.
Tim Swiel’s inclusion at fly-half offers an interesting narrative thread. The former Quins pivot featured in Smith’s debut for the club in 2017. He’ll need front ball to operate and it is doubtful he’ll get much of that. A relatively loose trio will do well to secure anything at the breakdown.
Springbok centre Juan de Jongh earns his 98th cap for the club that made him after returning to South Africa following five years with Wasps.
“Any match against the British and Irish Lions is a historic occasion and we will be doing everything we can to do justice to the magnitude of this game,” said Stormers coach John Dobson.
“The team has been highly disciplined in our bubble this week and now it is about doing everything we can on the field for 80 minutes.”
Stormers team: Sergeal Petersen, Seabelo Senatla, Rikus Pretorius, Daniel du Plessis, Edwill van der Merwe, Tim Swiel, Golden Masimla, Leon Lyons, JJ Kotze, Neethling Fouche, Ernst van Rhyn (c), JD Schickerling, Nama Xaba, Johan du Toit, Evan Roos.
Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter, Kwenzo Blose, Sazi Sandi, Justin Basson, Marcel Theunissen, Thomas Bursey, Abner van Reenen, Juan de Jongh, Leolin Zas, Lee-Marvin Mazibuko
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referee: AJ Jacobs (South Africa)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
It’s hard to imagine anything other than a one-sided contest.
Gatland will once again be cautious not to reveal too much in terms of obvious strategies, but his players will be under no illusion that a statement victory will be required to win back momentum ahead of the series proper.
A handful of men in red will see this as their last opportunity to impress and so will not hold anything back against an objectively weaker team.
The Stormers’ nimble backs will hurl themselves into as many recovery tackles as necessary, but they won’t be able to hold the line throughout the 80 minutes.
Score: Lions 60 - Stormers 20.