Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Cell C Sharks v British and Irish Lions Match Preview

Zander Fagerson
2021 British & Irish Lions Tour To South Africa British & Irish Lions Open Training Session, 18/6/2021 Zander Fagerson Mandatory credit ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

KO 6.00pm at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Wednesday 7th July 2021

Live on Sky Sports Action

The last time the Lions played the Sharks, Scotland’s only contribution to the 39-3 win was ten minutes off the bench for Mike Blair. Further back in 1997 things were a lot more healthy with Tom Smith, Gregor Townsend and Alan Tait all starting as the Sharks were put to the sword 42-12. It was a big day for Toony as he notched a try and also banged over a drop goal against a side he would go on to play for in the 2004 Super Rugby season.

Tale of the tape

0   Test tries   66
   Average weight   94kg
2   Test caps   276
Average age   27.3

868kg   Pack weight   908kg
   Test tries   23
0   Test caps  292
25.4   Average age   27.4

0   Test caps   409
   Test tries   41
26.7   Average age   29.6


Cell C Sharks

15. Manie Libbok
14. Werner Kok
13. Jeremy Ward
12. Marius Louw
11. Thaakir Abrahams
10. Curwin Bosch
9. Jaden Hendrikse

1. Khwezi Mona
2. Fez Mbatha
3. Khutha Mchunu
4. Ruben van Heerden
5. Hyron Andrews
6. James Venter
7. Thembelani Bholi
8. Phepsi Buthelezi (c)

16. Kerron van Vuuren
17. Ntuthuko Mchunu
18. Wiehahn Herbst
19. JJ van der Mescht
20. Reniel Hugo
21. Dylan Richardson
22. Grant Williams
23. Anthony Volmink

British & Irish Lions

15. Josh Adams
14. Louis Rees-Zammit
13. Elliot Daly
12. Bundee Aki
11. Duhan van der Merwe
10. Owen Farrell
9. Ali Price

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Luke Cowan-Dickie
3. Zander Fagerson
4. Iain Henderson (c)
5. Adam Beard
6. Josh Navidi
7. Tom Curry
8. Sam Simmonds

16. Ken Owens
17. Rory Sutherland
18. Tadhg Furlong
19. Maro Itoje
20. Jack Conan
21. Hamish Watson
22. Finn Russell
23. Taulupe Faletau

Scot Watch

(NB: all stats below relate only to the professional era – 1995 onwards – unless specifically stated.)

Six Scots in the matchday squad is the equal highest for any pro era Lions’ side – matching the half dozen who featured against the Sigma Lions last weekend.

When he crossed against Japan, Duhan van der Merwe became the fourth Scottish player to score a try on their Lions’ debut, following in the footsteps of Doddie Weir, Rob Wainwright (both 1997) and Simon Taylor (2001). Josh Adams has set the bar high so Duhan will need to get involved as much as possible against the Sharks if he’s to keep pushing for a Test place.

Zander Fagerson is the seventh Glasgow Warriors’ player to start for the Lions, with all bar Gordon Bulloch having done so on the last three tours. Another eight of Scotland’s Lions have played for the Warriors at some stage in their career. As the third of the three tightheads to get a start, Zander needs a big performance. He may need to risk conceding penalties by looking to dominate the scrummaging battle – one area the Lions have yet to really impose themselves on so far.

On Saturday, Ali Price became the first Scottish 9 to score a try for the Lions in the pro era. As the only scrum half in the 23, Ali has a huge opportunity to set down a marker for Test selection following an excellent showing against the Sigma Lions. In particular his box kicking was on point with the best possession retained percentage so far among the Lions’ 9s. He may need to manage his energy levels so he’ll be looking for more of the same from his kicking game in order to impress Warren Gatland and the rest of the Lions’ coaches.

Rory Sutherland will need to hit the ground running from the bench. It’s a role he has fulfilled regularly for Edinburgh – he’s been a sub in 26 of his last 41 club appearances – but it’s more than five years since he last featured as a replacement for Scotland.

Hamish Watson loves a good bench cameo. Not many who were there or watching that day will forget him coming on as a replacement against Wales at Murrayfield and breaking 10 tackles in the space of 22 minutes. Hamish doesn’t need much to get him up to speed – just warm him up and let him rip!

Finn Russell is rarely a bench option for Scotland – just once in his 55 caps has he come on as a replacement. This is a good opportunity to audition for a potential sub’s role in the Test matches. Hopefully there are more wram-up matches to come and he still has a further shot at grabbing the number 10 jersey as well.

Cell C Sharks’ scouting report

  • Players in the South Africa squad: With nine away on Springboks’ duty, the Sharks are the hardest hit of the South African provinces. Ox Nche, Thomas du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Sanele Nohamba, Lukhanyo Am, Aphelele Fassi, Makazole Mapimpi, Sbu Nkosi and Yaw Penxe are all unavailable.
  • Rainbow Cup stats: The Sharks ranked 1st out of the 4 South African teams for attack but just 3rd for defence. They were 1st for scrums with a 91% success rate and 3rd for lineouts with 87% won. Their discipline was the worst in the entire competition – including the PRO14 sides – with a pretty horrendous average of 15.7 penalties conceded per game.
  • Danger man: Springbok call-ups have ripped the heart out of the Sharks’ back 3. With that being the case the South African side might look to the pack for someone to make big yardage. During the Rainbow Cup, Phendulani Sikhizane Hendrick “Phepsi” Buthelezi played in the back row but averaged 8.7 metres per carry – numbers any winger would be proud of. Just 22 years of age, Buthelezi will skipper the Sharks and will be looking to make his mark at number 8 in the absence of the injured Sikhumbuzo Notshe.
  • Extremely tenuous Scottish rugby connections: Slim pickings here…Wiehahn Herbst played for South Africa U20 v Scotland U20 back in 2008 – let’s not mention the score though! Werner Kok won Commonwealth Gold for the Blitzbokke in Rugby 7s at Ibrox in 2014. Reniel Hugo made his first class debut for a Western Province side that included future Edinburgh ‘legend’ Wicus Blaauw.


Referee: Jaco Peyper (SARU)
Assistant Referee 1: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Assistant Referee 2: AJ Jacobs (SARU)
TMO: Marius van der Westhuizen (SARU)

The officiating trio rotate from Saturday’s game against the Sigma Lions with Mr Peyper taking over as the man in the middle. The South African official made his Test debut as a ref in Scotland’s 9-6 thrashing of Australia in 2012. It’s been more than four years since he took charge of a match involving the dark blues though.

The Welsh contingent on the coaching team should have more up-to-date info on Mr Peyper who took charge of their RWC 2019 quarter-final win. Hopefully, he doesn’t bear any ill will after photos taken with some Wales’ fans cost him a shot at refereeing a World Cup semi-final…

32 Responses

  1. Barring injuries, suspect we will see some players out of position in the last 20 or so if we are comfortably ahead.
    Potential for Hogg at 10, Williams onto the wing, Daly at wing or fullback, Harris at 12?

    Fagerson needs to have a good one to secure backup tight head – Furlong must be nailed on, Sinckler didn’t impress that much last time out. Priority has to be scrum performance, with good support at ruck time. Anything in open play is a bonus.

    Sutherland in pole position at loose head (bench front row here surely will start)- Jones can’t scrummage for toffee and will get torn to pieces by SA and we won’t win tests without a solid set piece (despite Maggie Alphonso bizarrely picking him in her test 15….). Vunipola doesn’t offer enough these days.

    VDM up against it for a wing spot and must play out of his skin every minute he gets to have any chance (Adams, Watson and Williams all likely ahead of him in the pecking order).

    Hogg and Williams is a very tight call so needs to be visible even if he only gets a short cameo.

    Harris impressed last time but 13 is a very contested position so also needs to do more than the others as has less “credit in the bank”.

    Given the sharks loss of players, can’t see anything but another comfortable win, but defence needs to continue to improve and players need to show they are adapting to the gameplan and teammates.

    1. That is excellent news. It is a long time coming, however it is time to put Glasgow behind him. He will shine like a beacon once again.

      1. Will be interesting to see if they’ve signed him as a fullback since Brown has left or a 13. At 13 they already have the incredibly talented Marchant, though he can cover wing I’m pretty sure he’s said 13 is his preferred position. Perhaps just signed as a utility back. Either way it should be a good fit as their style suits his game.

  2. Bulls reporting COVID cases… Saturdays game in jeopardy. Wouldn’t be surprised if they cancel the warm up games and just do the tests…

    1. Game off but “looking at alternatives” – maybe back to back against the Sharks or something?

      While obviously safety is the priority – really don’t want to see them cancel games except on an individual basis. The warm up games, seeing the development of tactics and players, and having the chance to play for a spot in the test games is really what the lions is about for me.

      Will also be a shame if SA Georgia is called off. Don’t want either side to have the excuse of being rusty.

      1. Well if SA can not play Georgia then would it make sense for the B&I lions to play Georgia? Gives a comparison/narrative as SA already played them.

        Play the Bulls on the next available Wednesday.

  3. Would like to see Russell get a run out with this centre combo. The power and pace of each of them would be perfect for him to send into gaps.

    Strong team although the pack has a bit of seconds feel. Only Henderson there is really in line for a test start.

  4. 2 Lions players isolating after management tested positive for Covid ffs….

  5. Bit odd and very loose game but Scots very strong again.

    Commentators have clearly picked their test team. LRZ was poor and made multiple mistakes but gets covered in glory after his relatively simple try. VDM gets a hat-trick and barely gets a mention (thankfully they don’t pick MOTM). Adams obviously nailed on, but on form VDM should be close to the other spot.

    Aki and Daly pretty good – would have Daly on the bench though.

    Farrell was again very average, Russell did more in 2 minutes than he did in 50. Also Russell kicking goals well. Farrell with an interception Russell would have got crucified for barely got mentioned.

    Price was good again.

    Fagerson also had a strong game – good scrummaging and a nuisance. Not going to displace Furlong but should be on the bench.
    LCD did well, Vunipola is a spent force.

    Henderson is excellent, Beard ok but didn’t see that much from him.

    Navidi excellent, golden boy Curry didn’t stand out at all. Simmonds was a bit disappointing for me, Conan in pole for 8.

    Sutherland was superb off the bench.

    Hopefully the outbreak will not cause more problems.

    1. Mish off the bench was also great for the 10 or so minutes he was on. Its his test jersey to lose at the moment…

      1. From watching Sky the starting back row tonight is their favourite 3! They went on and on about them.

  6. What have we learned about the Scottish Lions so far? Well I’m sorry Daily Mail, Wales on Line and Jonathan Davies but Hoggy can tackle, Mish is actually 2m and 125 kg and Finn can kick goals better than Owen Farrell. Additionally who knew that Rory Sutherland can give LRZ a 10m start in a sprint.

    1. Let’s see come the tests. I think the dilema is how they make the best of their high perfroming wings hence the number of FB options being trialled.

  7. A few injuries from tonight. Both VDM and LRZ looked to have hammy injuries. Fingers crossed

  8. Purely on lions form (so far) and the position they have been played in,
    Here is my test 23

    Hogg – Adams – Henshaw – Aki – DVDM – Biggar – Price – Conan – Watson – Beirne – Itoje – Lawes – Furlong – Cowan Dickie – Sutherland

    Williams – Russell – Murray – Navidi – Henderson – Sinkler – George – Jones

    Harris played very well and did nothing wrong against Lions but i thought Henshaw put in a similar performance against Sterner opposition.

    I could be swayed on Fagerson over Sinkler if there are stats to show he has performed better, close one.

    1. For me
      Henderson over Lawes
      Owens over LCD
      Murray over Price
      All 3 to bench
      Daly, Fagerson on the Bench over Williams, Sinckler.
      Jones/Vunipola both poor at scrum time but Jones is better in the loose at least.

    2. I think we might see a back 3 of Hogg, Williams and Adams. I just can’t see Williams being left out, bench option possibly? Don’t think LRZ has done enough, maybe he just wasn’t getting the ball but it took quite a while for me to notice he was wearing the 10 shirt which says it all. Adams and Duhan have been poaching but you still have to put yourself in the position to poach. Scoring a load of tries in the dirt trackers doesn’t guarantee a test start (just ask Tommy Seymour). Stand out Scots for me so far are Mish and Price, Sutherland a close 3rd.

      Hard to know really what to make of the backs at the moment, are they good or have the opposition just been cack? Easy for Price to look good getting the ball gift wrapped each time.

    3. In today’s match , Josh Adams looked comfortable at FB. Duhan is thriving on tour and showed an amazing turn of pace, I will be disapointed if he is omitted. The English and Welsh press are giving him and Watson positive write ups. I sense Gatland may have a few awkward discussions ahead, there is not a lot in it.

  9. If the test team was being selected on merit then we would see Hogg, DVDM, Price, Mish and Sutherland all starting. Obviously some guys have had more game time than others and given that Murray is captain I would expect to see him starting ahead of Price.
    Navidi played very well last night and given his versatility I could see him being a good bench option covering the whole back row with Beirne/Lawes at 6, Mish at 7 and probably Conan at 8 although I wouldn’t be surprised if Gatland went with Faletau despite his unremarkable form.

    1. Like I said above, there may be some hard discussions and I do not think any of them are nailed as yet and on merit, some of that 5 have shown more ‘merit’ than others .

      1. We can only judge by these warm up games and the players can only beat what’s in front of them. The part we don’t get to see is who is performing well in training. I still think Gatland will end up picking players he trusts who haven’t exactly been lighting it up e.g. Faletau and Liam Williams.

  10. The problem with the two games down there is they are nothing like a proper test. With front foot quick ball to throw about the backs look a million dollars and the wings can top up their try counts. Dont get me wrong I love a try from halfway as much as anybody but its a bit worrying that only 1 try has been scored from multi-phase forward grunt.

    Non-scot watch:
    Watching SC4 last night I liked Navidi and Henderson in the big lads and Daly and Adams out wide. Farrell did alright too (gritted teeth)
    Not sure about the fuss with Curry or Simmonds and my dear god how bad was Mako?

    Last thing. Can Edinburgh sign that Shark 14 please? Liked the cut of his jib.

    1. and they are going to play the Sharks again on Saturday…so I read on WalesOnline….

  11. Does anyone else think that Bundee Aki tires in games and tends to drift out from them as game progresses? I noticed it last night and I have seen it before with Ireland

  12. Rematch

    Lions team to face Sharks: 15. Liam Williams, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Elliot Daly, 12. Chris Harris, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Gareth Davies, 1. Rory Sutherland, 2. Jamie George (capt), 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Tadhg Beirne, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Jack Conan.

    Replacements: 16. Ken Owens, 17. Wyn Jones, 18. Kyle Sinckler, 19. Courtney Lawes, 20. Sam Simmonds, 21. Tom Curry, 22. Conor Murray, 23. Finn Russell.

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