Find out who Warren Gatland has picked for the opening fixture of the series

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British & Irish Lions team to play South Africa – First Test

Alun Wyn Jones will captain the British & Irish Lions in their opening Test of the series against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday.

It caps a remarkable comeback for the world’s most-capped player. The lock injured his shoulder just seven minutes into the match against Japan at the end of June and his tour looked over before it had begun, but he rejoined the Lions 2021 squad last week and his 20-odd minutes off the bench against the Stormers on Saturday were enough to convince the coaches he was fit to lead the team against the world champions.

Related: South Africa team to play the Lions

It will be the tenth straight Lions Test Jones has played in and he will partner Maro Itoje in the second row – the same pairing from the second and third Tests against the All Blacks four years ago.

Other familiar faces from the 2017 series in the starting line-up to take on the Springboks are tighthead Tadhg Furlong, wing Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly, who played on the wing in New Zealand and lines up at outside-centre in South Africa.

Watson is joined in the back three by Scotland’s Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe while Daly partners Robbie Henshaw in midfield.

Lions team to play South Africa

Scots Ali Price and Stuart Hogg start for the Lions (Getty Images)

At half-back, Wales’ Dan Biggar and Scotland’s Ali Price will be making their Test debuts for the Lions. It’s the first time three Scots – Hogg, van der Merwe and Price – have been included in a Test XV since 1983.

Related: First Scots in Lions Test XV since 2001

Wyn Jones and Luke Cowan-Dickie complete the front row alongside Furlong while Jack Conan gets the nod at No 8 with Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry selected at blindside and openside respectively.

Head coach Warren Gatland said: “In my four tours as a Lions coach, this was by far the hardest Test selection I have been involved in.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from the players so far; they’ve all put their hands up and made picking a starting XV incredibly difficult. In truth, we would have been happy with any number of different combinations across the 23, however, we’re very pleased with the side we’ve settled on.

“We know what we’re coming up against on Saturday. It’s going to be an arm wrestle, there’s no doubt about it. We’ll need to front up physically and be ready to go from the first whistle. When we played SA A last week we probably took a bit too long to get into the game, something we can’t afford to do that again this weekend.

“We need to make sure we play in the right areas of the field, not give them easy territory and take our chances when they come.”

British & Irish Lions team to play South Africa – First Test

Stuart Hogg; Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw, Duhan van der Merwe; Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Ken Owens, Rory Sutherland, Kyle Sinckler, Tadhg Beirne, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams.

The match at Cape Town Stadium will kick off at 5pm (UK & Ireland time) on Saturday evening and all tour matches are televised live on Sky Sports.

RUGBY WORLD VERDICT

Warren Gatland is known for making big selection calls and while there are a few surprises in this team, it’s hard to argue with any of the picks such has been the high standard across the board on this tour, writes RW editor Sarah Mockford.

Taulupe Faletau has long been a favourite of the coach but Jack Conan has been superb at No 8 in Lions red; Josh Adams has scored eight tries in four games but Duhan van der Merwe has crossed five times himself – and has beaten 29 defenders to Adams’s 13, so Gatland and co are clearly backing him to stretch Cheslin Kolbe and the Boks just as Kolbe will stretch the Lions.

Perhaps the boldest part of Gatland’s selection is the fact that a lot of these combinations haven’t played together on tour. This Test will be the first time Dan Biggar and Ali Price start together at half-back, for example. Usually the warm-up games are used to try different combos, but in 2021 the coaches are banking on those in form clicking in the Test series.

It’s certainly an exciting team, one with impressive carrying options in the forwards as well as the backs, and with Price at nine the Lions look set to play at a high tempo against the Boks, perhaps looking to tire opponents who haven’t had as much game time recently.

And with altitude no longer a factor in the series, with all Tests now being played in Cape Town, they should be able to maintain that tempo throughout the 80 minutes.

The curtain goes up on act one of the series at 5pm on Saturday – and it looks set to be a cracker.

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