Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Sigma Lions v British and Irish Lions Match Preview

Hogg Press Conference Lions
2021 British & Irish Lions Tour To South Africa British & Irish Lions Press Conference, South Africa 1/7/2021 Stuart Hogg Mandatory credit ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

KO 5.00pm at Emirates Airline Park, Johannesburg
Saturday 3rd July 2021

Live on Sky Sports Action

The Lions renew their rivalry with the err…Lions after clashing 12 years ago on 3rd June 2009 in Johannesburg. On that occasion a Scot-free starting lineup for the British and Irish Lions (with Ross Ford and Euan Murray playing the last 14 minutes) smashed the Golden Lions 74-10, scoring 10 tries along the way.

Tale of the tape

0   Test tries   68
   Average weight   92kg
1   Test caps   348
Average age   27.6

880kg   Pack weight   891kg
   Test tries   29
4   Test caps  424
24.0   Average age   29.4

0   Test caps   354
   Test tries   55
25.6   Average age   28.9


Sigma Lions

15. EW Viljoen
14. Jamba Ulengo
13. Manuel Rass
12. Burger Odendaal
11. Rabz Maxwane
10. Jordan Hendrikse
9. Dillon Smit

1. Nathan McBeth
2. PJ Botha
3. Ruan Dreyer
4. Ruben Schoeman
5. Reinhard Nothnagel
6. Sbusiso Sangweni
7. Vincent Tshituka
8. Francke Horn (c)

16. Jaco Visagie
17. Sti Sithole
18. Carlu Sadie
19. Ruhan Straeuli
20. Emmanuel Tshituka
21. Morne van den Berg
22. Fred Zeilinga
23. Dan Kriel

British & Irish Lions

15. Stuart Hogg (c)
14. Louis Rees-Zammit
13. Chris Harris
12. Owen Farrell
11. Josh Adams
10. Finn Russell
9. Ali Price

1. Wyn Jones
2. Jamie George
3. Kyle Sinckler
4. Maro Itoje
5. Jonny Hill
6. Courtney Lawes
7. Hamish Watson
8. Taulupe Faletau

16. Luke Cowan-Dickie
17. Mako Vunipola
18. Zander Fagerson
19. Iain Henderson
20. Sam Simmonds
21. Gareth Davies
22. Bundee Aki
23. Elliot Daly

Scot Watch

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

The six Scots in the matchday squad are the most for any pro era Lions’ side. The previous high was four (on eight separate occasions).

Stuart Hogg will make his eighth appearance for the Lions which puts him out in front among Scottish backs (Gregor Townsend, Alan Tait and Chris Cusiter – seven each). Hoggy is just the third Scot to captain the Lions since the game went pro (Rob Wainwright v Border, 1997 and Gordon Bulloch v Otago, Manawatu and Auckland, 2005).

Chris Harris is the first Scottish player to start at centre for the Lions since Alan Tait against Northern Transvaal in 1997. Chris is the oldest back in the starting lineup – although two of the replacements (Gareth Davies and Bundee Aki) are older than the Gloucester player.

Finn Russell finally gets a start for the British and Irish Lions after a five minute cameo in New Zealand four years ago. He is the third Scot to wear the 10 shirt in the pro era, following in the footsteps of two men who are also in South Africa for this year’s tour – Stuart Hogg (2013) and attack coach Gregor Townsend (1997).

During the professional era, Chris Cusiter, Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw have all started games at scrum half for the Lions. Ali Price will join that group and has the chance to become the first of that quartet to force himself into the matchday lineup for a fixture in a Test series.

Hamish Watson will finally become the first Scottish player to wear the Lions’ number 7 shirt since Finlay Calder in 1989. Nathan Hines (2009) and Jason White (2005) with one game each at blindside are the only other Scots to start in a Lions’ back row since Rob Wainwight managed that feat on seven occasions (all in the 6 jersey) in 1997.

Zander Fagerson is the youngest forward in the Lions’ 23 and the second youngest player in the matchday squad. The only other Scot to play at tighthead prop for the Lions in the pro era was Euan Murray (two starts and two sub appearances in 2009).

Sigma Lions’ scouting report

  • Players in the South Africa squad: Centre, Wandisile Simelane, is the only Lions player absent on international duty with the Springboks.
  • Rainbow Cup stats: The Lions ranked 4th out of the 4 South African teams for attack, defence, kicking and lineouts. They were 2nd for scrums with a 90% success rate and 1st for discipline, only conceding 8.7 penalties per game and copping just 2 yellow cards across the tournament. Their tackle completion rate of 80% was the worst across all 16 teams contesting the Rainbow Cup in the North and the South. No other South African side managed lower than 86% and the lowest among the PRO14 teams was Zebre with 84%.
  • Danger man: flying winger Rabz Maxwane nabbed 14 tries in 20 appearances for the Cheetahs during the 2018/19 PRO14 season. That was undoubtedly at the peak of his powers but he has scored tries whichever team or competition he has played in (at an overall rate of 1 every 123 minutes). He seemed to enjoy his games in the Northern Hemisphere and managed tries in Ireland, Scotland and Wales while the Cheetahs were on the road.
  • Tenuous Scottish rugby connection: Loosehead Nathan McBeth played for Scotland u20s in 2018 alongside the likes of Jamie Hodgson, Rory Darge and Ross Thompson who are all in the dark blues’ full international squad this summer.
  • Even more tenuous Scottish rugby connection: In 2015, EW Viljoen played at centre for South Africa u20s against Australia. He was outside former Glasgow man, Brandon Thomson – who started at stand off – and Viljoen’s opposite number was brand new Warriors’ player, Sione Tuipulotu.


Referee: AJ Jacobs (SARU)
Assistant Referee 1: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Assistant Referee 2: Jaco Peyper (SARU)
TMO: Stuart Berry (SARU)

It’s probably a sensible idea to get on the good side of this trio of officials as they will be the Ref, AR1 and AR2 on almost every occasion for the five warm-up matches prior to the Tests (Marius van der Westhuizen as AR2 for the South Africa A game is the only interloper). Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper will both take charge of two fixtures each in the next fortnight.

While discipline may not be as crucial to winning these games as it will in the Test series, a red card at this stage would probably end a players’ chances of featuring against South Africa. Tackle heights need to be suitably low and ruck entries staying well away from any head contact.

32 Responses

  1. It really is a monster B&I Lions pack isnt it. You can easily see two or three maul tries here.

    In terms of the backs its totally different from last week. Henshaw, Aki and VDM were all bashing it up. Other than Harris who does that this time? Its a midfield designed to get the ball wide.

    1. It’s almost like last week v Japan we saw a Gatland esque backline with Biggar and the bashers while this week it’s a Toonie one with a flair 10, ball playing 12 who can switch with Finn and Hogg and LRZ in the back three.

  2. I see the Sigma Lions have left three of their most experienced players on the bench. I’m not sure what the point of these provincial games is if they don’t even field the strongest available players.

  3. 1st half review
    – Scots all looking good. Watson is outstanding. All of them have a chance of being in the test 23 on this form
    – Farrell is very average. Can’t adapt, can’t play fast rugby, can’t tackle
    – Wyn Jones is not good enough in the scrum
    – Adams is awol on the left wing. Much better at 14, never seems to be looking for work.
    – Itoje has been good
    – Goal-line defence has been outstanding

    Need to kick on in the second half.

    1. 2nd half review
      – Adams clearly listened to me…. off his wing a lot more, hungry
      – Daly looked good
      – Russell little bit too loose but nothing too crazy (except where had advantage)
      – Zandbags….
      – Sigma Lions tired in the last 20 so space opened up a lot
      – Too many players isolated at ruck time

      1. And now that more or less everyone has had a game – test 23 after 2 games

        1 Sutherland 2 Owens 3 Furlong
        4 Itoje 5 Henderson
        6 Beirne 7 Watson 8 Conan
        9 Murray 10 Biggar
        12 Aki 13 Henshaw
        11 VDM 14 Adams 15 Williams
        16 Vunipola 17 George 18 Sinckler
        19 Lawes 20 Simmonds
        21 Price 22 Russell 23 Hogg

        Backup 1 and 3 is a worry.
        Torn between Williams and Hogg but in the 2 games Williams edges it.
        Daly also very close at 13.

      2. Also Harris just misses out so far – 13 is difficult to call, might come down to versatility

      3. The Lions will need to win the first 2 tests. The third might see a few risks , no way Gatland will risk the Springbok getting momentum. Where available , I would expect to see players with Lions ‘test’ experience in the first test line up. That analysis looks about right Fraser , the only question mark for me is Lawes, should he start or finish ! He can step in and lead if it gets rough.

  4. The ball is not getting to the wings, is that Farrell or Russell ? Look forward to second half when their forwards lack strength and the wings come into it. DVM looked for work last week, big difference this week. Being honest, I think they need leadership, sorry if that offends, very few are paying attention to the man of the moment. Our lads are looking on form, I will agree with that.

  5. I thought the 5 starting Scots were the best players on the pitch plus Josh Adams. Price, Watson and Harris in particular with Hogg excellent under the high ball and finn just producing what I’ve come to expect. With the exception of one double pump to many that caused a knock on I thought Price was virtually flawless.

  6. I also thought the Scots lads did well with Harris and Price probably surprising a few. Gatland seemed quick to single out Russell for making a few errors but that’s the nature of his game. Biggar makes less errors because he plays it safe and takes less risks. I don’t mean to bash Farrell but he did look like a spare part in midfield- unable to receive a fast flat pass from Russell or Price and not able to play the crash ball 12. You really needed a Vakatawa in there yesterday who is on the same wavelength. Gatland will clearly start with Biggar at 10. The only question is whether he will want a Plan B point of difference like Russell on the bench or someone he can trust with a crucial kick at goal in Farrell.

    1. Yep, I think the Russell-Farrell combo was both player’s chance to make the cut. It clearly didn’t work.

    2. Bash away, Farrell was awful (continuing his form from the 6N).
      Russell deserves to be backup 10 – think Gatland needs to let him take goal kicks next game otherwise that will be the excuse to play Farrell.
      He might not be the number 1 goalkicker in the world, but he is still pretty good.

      1. Farrell – 10 for kicking, 9 for defence, 5 for attack.
        Russell – 7 for kicking, 7 for defence, 10 for attack
        Bigger- 8 for each…

        With a non-dominant pack likely for tests, Farrell needs a proper playmaker in the side (like Russell). Finn needs solidity and 90%+ kicking (like Farrell).

        Biggar being more balanced allows any 12 to be picked…his place is not depending on the form/needs of others.

        I’d have Biggar 10, Aki 12, Harris 13, with Russell and maybe Daly on the bench…suspect Gatland will prefer Farrell as bench option for 10/12.

      2. Farrell is poor defensively and has been shown up time and time again. He cannot tackle – could not in WC, 6 nations or yesterday – it is the main gripe from English fans about him and will always be targeted. Better make that a 4.

  7. I suppose the argument with Farrell is his so called versatility, but looking at his form over the last 12 months he’s becoming more and more like a Peter Horne type player. Not quite good enough currently without a noticeable drop in levels as a replacement in either position. Biggar is clearly the 1st choice 10 and I’m sure one of 23 will be a different style of winger, Duhan or RZ quite possibly.
    So the last spot surely revolves around 3 players – Finn/Farrell or Daley. Unless it’s Aki/Harris either or. Henshaw must surely be nailed on as 12.Finns problem is that Farrell still has credit in the bank and he is much more a Gatland type of player. As you say Finn needs to be given an opportunity to kick in a game(s) to show that that part of his game is adequate.

    1. Farrell has attitude, determined sort of guy who spends his life in rugby. Finn takes risks, some work, others do not. He should be there and he could win a test for the lions on his good days.

      1. But ,on balance you think he will opt for the experience and durability of Farrell on the bench ? Lions and European cup experience , I can understand that , very rational argument.

  8. Gatland would have been having kittens at the almost intercept when Finn threw the ball under his own posts but I’m not sure if advantage was being played? I seem to recall play being called back but can’t quite remember.

    Toonie needs to persuade Gatland to let Finn take any kicks at goal in his next run out and Finn needs to hope that Farrell doesn’t start to find any form otherwise it’s game over for him in the test series. If Farrell starts at 10 on Weds then it’s clear that Gatland wants to give him every opportunity to claim a test spot given that he played 80 yesterday and Finn was replaced.

  9. There are a lot of inconsistencies on how people are judging players right now. Connor Murray had an array of errors barely mentioned whereas had Ali Price made those errors it would have been tour over. Similarly if Russell or Duhan had missed a tackle in the manner Farrell did for Sigma lions first try, they would have been dismissed from the test team on the spot.

    1. Russell still gets judged most harshly from those looking for confirmation of errors – Harris threw an intercept leading to a try but otherwise had a great game so didn’t get mentioned; Farrell was clumsy and lost and still somehow reliable. Don’t get me started on Stephen Jones rating of Hogg and Watson. (Both 7s to eg Farrells 8)

      1. Virtually everyone else singling out Watson, Adams and Hogg for praise.

        Also did Price look quicker and lighter yesterday… did his reputation no harm at all!

      2. Yes I noticed that too and was pleasantly surprised. It felt like Price had wound the clock back five years. In my dreams, he is going to become a complete scrum half….with fast and slow modes as the game situation requires. We’ve seen fast Ali in the early years, we’ve seen him channel Greeg in the middle years – but if dreams can come true, the best is yet to come when he can switch between the two.

  10. Watched on the welsh language channel. I felt the defence was not quite as good as people say. SA would have taken shots at goal for a lot of those penalties. In particular Sinclair seems to make no effort to use arms in a chop tackle in close.

    Non Scottish player who stood out where Itoje, Adams (well duh), George and Daly. Daly was a surprise, who knew picking him at the position he plays for his club would be a good idea eh?

    But is it just me but Falateu has had two very ordinary games?

  11. Lawes has been lauded for his lineout, fair enough but he could have been yellow carded in both games. Vs Japan he synically killed the ball on his own line which should have lead to the concession of a try while in the latest game his blatant neck role did cost a try.

    1. Overall, the English players discipline/ technique has been much like it was in the 6N – well below standard

      Simmons too could have been carded for his clear out on the try line.

      1. Daly was good when he came on and has a lot of credit in the bank with Gatland from the last tour though. As long as he plays at centre.

  12. My Team for the Wednesday game.

    Anthony Watson – Liam Williams – Elliot Daly – Robbie Henshaw – Duhan Van Der Merwe – Stuart Hogg – Gareth Davies – Sam Simmonds – Tom Curry – Josh Navidi – Tadhg Beirne – Adam Beard – Zander Fagerson – Luke Cowan-Dickie – Mako Vunipola

    Bundi Aki – Finn Russell – Connor Murray – Jack Conan – Ian Henderson – Tadgh Furlong – Ken Owens – Rory Sutherland

    Getting the remainder of those who have not started in + a little experimentation should Farrell get injured against SA.

  13. I enjoyed the game and credit to the Sigma Lions they dug their heels in towards the end of the first half and I thought maybe this won’t be the cricket score it was looking like. As for the Scottish players I think they basically continued their Scotland form. Mish was outstanding as he was through the 6N, if he doesn’t start any of the tests it would be criminal levels of injustice. Harris also good, I thought he offered a wee bit more going forward than we are used to as well which is great to see. Hogg and Russell played like they both have recently, less of the mental stuff of years gone by (although still a few cheeky no look passes from Finn) just assured, solid performances from both. Not sure about Russell and Farrell combo, I don’t think Farrell looked that comfortable taking Finns flat balls on the gain line and wasn’t quite on his wavelength sometimes. Price was very good, again not an oh my god he needs to start all the tests kind of performance but solid and no worse than Connor Murray for example would have put in.

    For the non natives I thought Courtney Lawes had a cracker, sometimes legally sometimes not but he was an absolute menace, and Josh Adams obviously, can’t remember exactly what all his tries looked like, most of them were walk ins I think but that’s what a winger is for, to finish them off. He gains a point for talking up mish’s performance when asked if he was disappointed to score 4 and not get MOTM too, good lad.

    1. From my equally poor memory 2 were easy walks ins, but the other two he needed to beat a few defenders for one (maybe that was LRZ tho?) and win the footrace for the other…

      Nice to see folks running them under the posts…even if only being told to by Hoggy.

      Too often its a showy swan dive giving the kicker a challenge

      1. One was pure class beat two / three men to go in.

        One was catching a kick Russell very nearly overcooked (and which would have been a simple Hogg try if he had just passed)

        One was a sprint up the touchline off turnover ball which looked easy but did need the pace to get to the corner.

        One was a walk in off a great pass by Daly.

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