The British & Irish Lions are ready to begin their tour of South Africa and there are plenty of question marks over both sides going into this one.
The very nature of the Lions being assembled just weeks ahead of the series is enough to raise a thousand variables. COVID-19 restrictions, empty stadiums and fresh players in each squad will also stir the pot.
But when all is said and done, who will win? Who will come out on top? We caught up with former England and Lions star Matt Dawson and ex-South Africa ace Francois Louw for their big predictions on how the series will go down.
RadioTimes.com brings you Matt Dawson and Francois Louw’s big predictions ahead of the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa which airs live on Sky Sports and streaming service NOW over the coming weeks.
Where will the battle be won or lost?
Dawson: In all of these enormous games, it hasn’t really changed from decade to decade: games are won up front. You’ve got to have the sprinkling of stardust in the backline but ultimately, if you want to beat South Africa, and it’s certainly been the same since I first played them in 1997, it’s about the forward pack.
It’s about the collision, it’s about trying to get the one per cent better than parity to create a bit of momentum for their backline. That’s where the battle is going to be.
Louw: Every single player is under pressure. There’s no room for not performing, for not achieving. I think there are going to be challenges individually because we’ve all had to deal with different circumstances around COVID and how training has unfolded and how tricky it has been. Will there be the same buzz around the stadium? Does that lift certain players? And now they won’t have that.
There’s the pressure of the game itself and a sort of internal pressure that you implant in yourself, telling yourself you’ve got to pull through this, make a name for myself otherwise I’m out and in the Lions, you’ll be out pretty quickly if you don’t perform as they have a lot of depth and a big squad. There’s a lot of pressure but that’s why we do it. Pressure is nice, and if you can harness it, you can hopefully deliver.
Expect fresh selections to pay off
Dawson: You just know from experience, that there is going to be a slightly left-field selection that Warren Gatland will go with and they’ll have a huge impact.
If the Lions have that mentality, then actually it won’t really matter who’s in the team. From experience of ’97, there were plenty of people who, at the beginning of that tournament, no-one would have put them in that Test team in Newlands in ’97. And yet that squad, that team and management have gone down in folklore.
Louw: What’s quite exciting with the Lions is that you don’t have to have represented your country to be selected for the Lions. They’ve got a few wild cards in there which is super exciting.
Louis Rees-Zammit, the young kid, he’s been performing well here in England for Gloucester and getting a go there. Then you’ve obviously got the stalwarts in the side, the likes of Toby Faletau, Anthony Watson, Conor Murray getting the captain’s armband, how’s that gonna change his game? Is it going to put a different pressure on him? Is it going to elevate his game? Compress his game?
Who will win British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa?
Dawson: I think it will probably be a 2-1 series win whichever way it goes. Francois [Louw] will be thinking that the South Africans are going to win. And I’m going to be sat there as a Lions fan thinking that this is their opportunity to finally win a Test series since 1997, which is 24 years ago. That’s a long old time. It will be well worth tuning in because I think it’s going to be an epic series.
Lions WIN 2-1.
Louw: I definitely think South Africa have more than a chance but I think it’s going to be super, super tight. There wasn’t a clean sweep the last time around and I definitely don’t think it’s going to be a clean sweep this time. Both teams are massively in contention to take the series. As a fan, it would be nice if they won one each and there was a final playoff to create a bit more hype. I don’t think it is going to be a clean sweep so 2-1 is my prediction, South Africa’s way.
South Africa WIN 2-1.
The British and Irish Lions Tour is available to view on streaming service NOW with a Sports Membership, currently priced on offer at £25 a month for three months.
NOW has teamed up with renowned South African chef Patrick Williams to create a collection of traditional Braai recipes for fans to enjoy whilst watching the matches. Find them at https://www.nowtv.com/watch-rugby-online