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After four easy victories, the Lions lost their first game of the tour last night. A mighty South Africa A side, featuring many Springbok Test starters and World Cup winners, ran out 17-13 winners in a brutal game that gave the Lions a taste of what is to come in the Test series, which begins a week on Saturday.
“It is important that you want to keep a few things back,” said Gatland. “We’ve been doing that. The players are pretty positive about that performance and knowing we can improve a lot. It’s going to be an incredibly exciting Test series.”
The Lions were today due to name their side for their final warm-up, this Saturday, before the First Test, with a debut handed to Marcus Smith and returns for Robbie Henshaw, from injury, and Stuart Hogg, from quarantine.
Smith was called up on Saturday, while he played for England against Canada at Twickenham to cap a remarkable month in which he guided Harlequins to extraordinary victories over Bristol Bears and Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership semi-final and final, then won his first two international caps.
He goes straight into a matchday 23 which includes Ireland centre Henshaw, who has not played since the Japan fixture last month, and Hogg, who only joined the squad in Cape Town yesterday having been deemed a close contact of the member of staff who tested positive for Covid-19 last week.
Alun Wyn Jones, who has completed a remarkable recovery from a shoulder injury, and Ireland hooker Ronan Kelleher arrive as reinforcements today, but will have to isolate and will not train until Monday.
Owen Farrell was thrust into action at short notice last night, with Dan Biggar sitting out due to a “minor ankle sprain”.
Liam Williams also came into the XV for Josh Adams, who joined his partner on Zoom as she gave birth. Williams was forced off early in the game by a worrying blow from Eben Etzebeth.