Gregor Townsend has urged the British and Irish Lions side facing the Stormers to capitalise on playing the day before selection for the first Test against South Africa is decided.
Townsend admits that because performances at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday will be freshest in the coaches’ minds when they gather the following day to pick their 23 to collide with the Springboks, the players have a unique opportunity they must seize.
It means the likes of scrum-half Ali Price, centre Elliot Daly and flanker Hamish Watson – players pushing hard to be involved – have crucial final auditions in the last game before the main event of the tour begins.
Townsend expects the Test team to be finalised by Sunday evening, allowing preparations to meet the world champions to begin the following morning.
“It’s the last thing that you see as a coach. It can have an influence,” attack coach Townsend said.
“How well players did through the tour, in bigger games, let’s say the Japan game, or the game against South Africa ‘A’ the other night – they are factors.
“The catalogue of what you’ve done on tour and how you’ve impressed at training as well as your consistency throughout the games will be a factor.
“But also what you have done the day before we sit down for selection is going to influence us, absolutely. This is the last chance for players to put their hands up.
“Selection is about giving players opportunities and ultimately it’s them who have to take them.
“If players grab them against the Stormers and put in a performance that we believe can help us win that first Test, then they’ll be in a strong position.
“It’s obviously a huge game for selection. We haven’t discussed Test selection at all and we know that’s going to occupy our minds on Sunday.”
Two players in action in the final game against provincial opposition will be judged less decisively on events on Saturday as centre Robbie Henshaw and full-back Stuart Hogg make comebacks.
Henshaw has not played in South Africa because of a hamstring injury while Hogg, who captains the side against the Stormers, was forced to spend a week in self-isolation as a close contact of a positive coronavirus test.
“They’ve had less games so it’s about what they’ve done in the games and where we see them fit in with the game we want to play,” Townsend said.
“Both of them have an opportunity against the Stormers. It would have been much tougher for them if they hadn’t been available for this game.”
The Lions are overwhelming favourites to return to winning ways after suffering their first defeat of the tour on Wednesday night, a 17-13 loss to a South Africa ‘A’ team mostly made up of established Springboks.
Townsend returned to the coaches’ box after completing his own week in self-isolation and found the evening invaluable despite the result.
— DHL Stormers (@THESTORMERS) July 15, 2021
“Our players have learnt what it’s like to come up against the Springboks,” the Scotland boss said.
“Not many people have that opportunity and when you do it’s a one-off game. It’s a World Cup semi-final for the Welsh guys or a final for the English guys.
“Now they’ve had that experience of what they’re about, the way they’re going to play. The Springboks aren’t going to change, we know that. They will be better for the hit-out.
“We felt that seeing where they are strong, maybe where there are opportunities, that’s hugely valuable for the group that played, but also for those of us who were in the stadium watching.”