It was feared Alun Wyn Jones had suffered a tour ending injury
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Alun Wyn Jones is understood to be optimistic of making a “miracle” recovery from his dislocated shoulder and could yet make a dramatic return to feature in the British and Irish Lions’ Test series against South Africa.
Telegraph Sport can reveal that the Wales captain has told Lions head coach Warren Gatland that he hopes to “get himself right” after the diagnosis confirmed that the injury he sustained against Japan at Murrayfield last Saturday was not as severe as first feared.
Gatland was forced to call up Wales lock Adam Beard as a replacement for Jones and hastily appointed Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray as his new tour captain following a series of meetings with his coaches before the squad departed for Johannesburg on Sunday.
The promising news about Jones however will give the Lions a major psychological boost ahead of their opening tour match against the Emirates Lions on Saturday.
Jones, 35, is desperate to still play a part in what would be his fourth tour with the Lions, having featured in their last nine Test matches.
“Given his age, they think that they could potentially take a few shortcuts, more than you would do with a young player, if he picked up this type of injury at the start of his career,” Gatland said.
“So he’s kind of optimistic that a miracle may happen, and then he can get himself right. We’re just going to assess it and see how the next couple of weeks goes in terms of that. I think the specialist said, when he had to look at it, that it wasn’t quite as bad as he thought it would be.
“But not good enough, obviously, to come on tour to start with, and, and we needed a replacement otherwise we would have put too much pressure on him and the other second rows.
"We’re going to monitor that and as we come towards the end of the tour, or if we pick up an injury and he’s making amazing progress, something can happen – you never know. So it’s kind of one of those just wait and see situations.”
Jones has been in talks with both Gatland and the Lions physios and an assessment about his potential return to the squad is likely to be made before the squad are due to travel to Cape Town after their third match of the tour on July 10. The first Test against the Springboks is on July 14.
“There have been some conversations that have gone on in the last few days,” Gatland added.
“They have been saying: “Okay you go away and do your rehab and in the next couple of weeks we will see what sort of progress you’ve made.
“There would be no way that we would even consider even bringing him out unless he was back into full contact and those sorts of things. We just have got to look at it, it may be that we pick up injuries in that position as well.
“So there’s lots of things that could happen and could change. We’re just keeping an open mind on that situation.”
Springbok skipper Kolisi hoping Lions tour can lift nation’s mood
By Mick Cleary
Springbok captain, Siya Kolisi, believes that the Lions series can have the same galvanising effect on the country as their World Cup triumph in Japan did in 2019.
That uplifting process begins on Friday night when South Africa play against Georgia, their first match in precisely 20 months since those joyous scenes were triggered by victory over England in Yokohama. The game at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria is being played behind closed doors after President Cyril Ramaphosa, who flew into Tokyo on the day of the final itself to support the Springboks, moved the country to a state of Tier 4 high alert curfew status last weekend after escalating numbers of Covid cases.
However, such were the celebrations across all sectors of South African society in their wake of the World Cup success, it is no surprise that there is a rising sense of anticipation at seeing the Springboks back in action in what will be their first outing as world champions.
“We will give it our best shot,” said Kolisi whose own rags-to-riches story struck such a chord in the country, rising from township hardship to the prestigious heights of national captain. “I think it will help a lot of people just in seeing something. When we play it brings a good vibe around the country. There have been a lot of people struggling. Hopefully, we can put a smile on people’s faces. We are very excited to get on the field. What we do sometimes gives people hope. People are going through a really difficult time all around the country. We are hoping it can lift one or two people.”
South Africa skipper Siya Kolisi
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The three-test series against the Lions begins in Cape Town on July 24th. The fact that it will be played out to an empty backdrop, with the traditional Sea of Red Lions following usually accounting for 25,000-30,000 in the stadiums, will inevitably have a deadening effect. The Springboks, however, are acutely aware of the wider issues in the country as a third wave of coronavirus sweeps through the capital city as well as Johannesburg and the surrounding areas in particular. The squad are making best efforts to provide some sort of solace in trying circumstances.
“We always talk about hope,” said assistant coach, Mzwandile Stick. “As a Springbok, it’s not only when things are going well that we want to be recognised. Even in tough times, we want to be good examples. We want to say to the people of the country that we must be positive going forward and make sure we comply with all the restrictions of the pandemic. We all know that we will get through this. We simply need to be strong as South Africans.”
Just as Nelson Mandela’s wearing of Francois Pienaar’s no.6 Springbok shirt on the Ellis Park podium in 1995 as South Africa won their first World Cup came to be a powerful symbol of the new rainbow nation so Kolisi’s position as the first black man to captain the ‘Boks has been a rallying image for a fractured country over the last couple of years. The captain speaks fervently of the power of the green and gold shirt and pledges that his sense of responsibility will never wane.
“Once you’ve tasted it you don’t want it to stop,” said Kolisi. “I can’t explain the feeling to someone who has not done it. You can’t get a big head, as my mate next to me will say “you’re getting a big head now, cut it out”. You learn a lot about yourself – I love that. From club to country everything doubles up. The new guys will experience that.”
Kolisi diplomatically declined to respond to the claim of former Wales and Lions captain, Gareth Thomas, that the ‘Boks will be whitewashed, 3-0, in the series, preferring instead to re-emphasise just what the Lions can expect to greet them at the Cape Town Stadium.
“Our game plan hasn’t changed,” said Kolisi. “Our physicality, our work-rate, all the stuff that you don’t need talent for, it’s all in place and in play. That’s how the squad has been chosen, to have warriors out there. It is why we wake up every morning and train as hard as we can, to play for our provinces and to get an opportunity to play for the Springboks.”
Three Tests at sea level helps the Lions, insists Gatland
By Gavin Mairs
Warren Gatland believes the British and Irish Lions could be handed an advantage by the three-Test series against South Africa being played at sea level in Cape Town.
Two of the three Tests had been scheduled to take place at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, which, at over a mile above sea level, presented a strength and conditioning challenge to the Lions, given the reduced oxygen at high altitude.
The Lions squad have already undergone specialised training, including Wattbike sessions using face masks to deliver reduced oxygen levels, to ensure the players are conditioning to peak in their fitness on the highveld. However, given the spike of Covid-19 infections in Gauteng as South Africa battles with a third wave of the pandemic, it is now expected that the Lions will play the final five matches of their tour in Cape Town after departing Johannesburg following their match against the Bulls a week on Saturday.
The conditioning work and the experience of playing three games at high altitude should mean players benefit from the exertions of training with reduced oxygen levels when they travel to Cape Town.
“We’ve been told we’re here for the first three games, and then we go down to Cape Town,” Gatland said. “It hasn’t been officially confirmed, but there is a likelihood that we could stay down there further for the games and the Test matches will be down there. We were preparing to be down there for a few weeks in Hermanus, so that shouldn’t really affect us too much at all, in terms of changing. In fact, it’s probably an advantage that it will be based in one place and having had the benefits of being up in altitude for a few weeks and then going down to sea level. I see that as being positive.
“We’ve been doing altitude training – we did some in Jersey and some of the guys have been doing a little bit of extra stuff here as well with the bikes and machines. We get the couple weeks of acclimatisation with the altitude, so that should be good going back to sea level.”
Gatland on Thursday named his selection for the first tour match against the Emirates Lions on Saturday, with the line-up shedding light on the fly-half conundrum. After Dan Biggar’s impressive performance in the victory over Japan at Murrayfield last Saturday, all eyes were on Gatland’s selection for the 10 shirt for the opening tour game as the pick would go some way to determining the pecking order.
Would it be Owen Farrell or Finn Russell? As it turns out, Gatland has picked both, but, significantly, Farrell’s first start is at inside centre. Instead, it is Russell who is handed the playmaker role. It makes not only for a fascinating combination, given that Russell is seen as flamboyant and creative in contrast to Farrell’s steely game management, but also appears to confirm that Gatland sees the England captain as a 12 on this tour.
It is the position where he is most used with England, outside George Ford, and was also where he starred for the Lions in the second and third Tests in New Zealand four years ago. Given the physicality of the Springboks, Farrell’s aggressive defence is more impactful at 10 than 12, but using two distributors will allow the Lions to play a more tactically challenging game, which could yet be a template for the Test series.
For now, though, the conclusion must be that Farrell is facing direct competition from the more powerful and explosive directness of Bundee Aki at 12 and may only be seen as a potential fly-half in case of injury to Biggar or Russell. Russell must know that Saturday’s match will represent a huge opportunity to press his own case for a Test place.
Of the three players, his innate talent and vision is unrivalled. Proving he has the mental capacity, discipline and, most crucially of all, the trust of those around him to consistently make the right decision under pressure will be his challenge.
“Finn has a slightly different way of playing. He’s matured amazingly in the past few years in terms of his game management and the way he controls the game,” Gatland said. “We know what flair he has from an attacking perspective, but it’s also those deft attacking kicks that he’s able to bring to his game. I thought against France the way he managed that game and his kicking game and control was outstanding. It’s pretty exciting to have a look at that combination. We do want to have a look at Owen at 10 at some stage as well and give him an opportunity there, because that’s where he’s been picked. But we know he’s equally comfortable in the 12 position.”
Stuart Hogg will captain from full-back a week after he started the Premiership final on the bench for Exeter. “For me, it’s a huge honour,” said Hogg, who is on his third tour. “As a kid growing up, I watched all the Lions DVDs and videos and I had a dream of representing them one day. To be given an opportunity to captain the side is absolutely amazing. I’m over the moon, I’m delighted with the opportunity and it gives me a huge amount of confidence to be asked to lead this side. It is a lot easier when there is so much experience in the squad, but I am hugely excited for the challenge.”