Friday 23 July 2021 8:00 am

Ollie Phillips: I'm predicting a British and Irish Lions victory in the first Test - and the series - in South Africa

I’m really intrigued by the upcoming British and Irish Lions Test series with South Africa, which starts this weekend.

The Springboks are the world champions but have barely played together in the last 18 months because of Covid-19’s impact on sport.

They are not totally wet behind the ears, of course, but any lack of sharpness plays into the hands of Warren Gatland’s Lions.

Gatland has also been helped by the decision to play all three Tests in Cape Town – cutting down travel and removing the daunting prospect of playing at altitude.

It all adds to what has been a very positive tour so far for the Lions.

Lions captain Jones’s return ‘like nothing I’ve heard of’

They have looked imperious in their tour matches, smashing all comers apart from a South Africa A side that was effectively the Springboks’ first XV.

If there is a concern, it’s that they have won games too easily; bar South Africa A, no one has really tested the Lions.

We know what to expect from the Springboks. They will be tight, attritional and Handre Pollard and Faf de Klerk will kick the ball up in the air all day long. 

Gatland is banking on the Lions’ superior fitness telling in the last 20 minutes. But first they’ll have to make sure they’re still in the contest at that point.

Alun Wyn Jones will lead the Lions on Saturday after making a Lazarus-like recovery from a dislocated shoulder.

Normally, that injury would keep you out for three months but Jones has got back on the field in closer to three weeks.

He is a freak. In all my life I have never heard of anything like it, and I’m sure it will be a huge boost to the squad.

That said, the Springboks are sure to target his shoulder, and the Lions need the real Alun Wyn Jones – the one who makes 20 tackles a game and hits every ruck – not just the name.

If Lions go ahead against Springboks, they’ll win by seven

Competition is so tight for places, but Gatland still managed a few surprises in his selection for the first Test.

Liam Williams is amazing under the high ball but Stuart Hogg starts at full-back instead, scrum-half Ali Price is preferred to interim skipper Conor Murray and wing Josh Adams isn;t even on the bench, despite a hatful of tries so far on the tour.

Elliot Daly’s selection at 13, a position England don’t even play him in, shows his quality and versatility, while Courtney Lawes adds some extra physicality and height to the back row to combat South Africa’s forward power and lineout prowess.

And there is no shortage of firepower among the replacements, including Hamish Watson, Tadhg Beirne, Owen Farrell and Williams. It’s an exciting team.

If the Lions can get in front on Saturday then I fancy them to win by seven. But if the Springboks turn it into an arm wrestle and kick the leather off the ball, I have some concerns.

If pushed, I’d back a Lions win on Saturday and a 3-0 whitewash in the Test series. 

Former England Sevens captain Ollie Phillips is the founder of Optimist Performance, experts in leadership development & behavioural change. Follow Ollie on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

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