5 talking points ahead of the British and Irish Lions’ meeting with Japan

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The British and Irish Lions launch their 2021 tour when they face Japan on Saturday before departing for South Africa 24 hours later.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into the Murrayfield appointment.

Lift off

Alun Wyn Jones will lead the Lions against Japan
Alun Wyn Jones will lead the Lions against Japan (PA)

After months of uncertainty over where the tour would be staged – and if it would even take place at all – the 2021 Lions are poised to finally step on to the playing field in defiance of the coronavirus pandemic. Now it is up to Alun Wyn Jones and his team-mates to plant a flag in the sand by delivering a momentum-building victory over Japan in Edinburgh.

Scotsmen on parade

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Only the third ever home Lions fixture had promised to be a celebration of Scottish rugby, but their four starters have reduced to two after Hamish Watson and Zander Fagerson sustained injuries, leaving just Duhan van der Merwe and Rory Sutherland in place with Ali Price on the bench. It is a disappointing development for a 16,500 crowd eager to acknowledge Scotland’s largest squad representation since 1989, but Watson and Fagerson will get their chances again soon.

Enjoy the send-off

Murrayfield will host a 16,500 crowd for the Lions against Japan
Murrayfield will host a 16,500 crowd for the Lions against Japan (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Lions must embrace the reception awaiting them at Murrayfield, where the sport’s largest crowd since the pandemic began will gather to send off the elite of British and Irish rugby, as when they reach South Africa they will be playing in empty stadiums. An escalating number of coronavirus cases, particularly in the Gauteng region that encompasses Johannesburg, have removed any faint hope that fans will be allowed into stadiums and have forced a tightening of the tourists’ bubble restrictions.

Generals to take centre stage

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Of all the combinations picked to face Japan, it is half-backs Conor Murray and Dan Biggar that has the greatest look of a Test axis in waiting. Murray has beaten Gareth Davies and Price for the number nine jersey while Biggar has benefited from Owen Farrell and Finn Russell being late arrivals into camp. It is early days, but a strong showing at Murrayfield would place the Irish and Welsh veterans in pole position to start the first Test.

Japan plot early setback

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Gregor Townsend described swashbuckling Japan as the toughest opening opponents in Lions history, and while Jamie Joseph’s men have not played a match since their 2019 World Cup quarter-final defeat by South Africa, they are a quality side who fully warrant the attack coach’s evaluation. There are 10 survivors from the loss to the Springboks, including captain Michael Leitch, and they will remain loyal to the joyful high-tempo game that lit up the global showpiece 18 months ago.

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