Conor Murray to make first start as Lions’ tour captain against South Africa ‘A’

Murray is reunited with Dan Biggar at half-back at Cape Town Stadium.
Conor Murray to make first start as Lions’ tour captain against South Africa ‘A’

By Duncan Bech, PA England Rugby Correspondent

Conor Murray will make his first start since being named Alun Wyn Jones’ replacement as British and Irish Lions captain in Wednesday’s clash with South Africa ‘A’.

Murray is reunited with Dan Biggar at half-back at Cape Town Stadium in a combination that was last seen in the 28-10 victory over Japan that launched the tour in Edinburgh last month.

Murray played 29 minutes as a replacement against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday in his second appearance of the tour, his afternoon cut short by a yellow card for killing the ball.

There are only three survivors from the XV that overwhelmed the team from Natal, with Biggar, Anthony Watson and Chris Harris retaining their places.

Watson makes successive starts and switches from wing to full-back to form a back three with Welsh duo Louis Rees-Zammit and Josh Adams. Harris moves from inside to outside centre, with Bundee Aki taking the number 12 jersey.

Warren Gatland has opted for a back row of Josh Navidi, Tom Curry and Taulupe Faletau as the Lions await their toughest test of the tour having amassed a total of 181 points in three games against provincial opposition.

Dan Biggar (pictured) links up with Conor Murray at half-back
Dan Biggar (pictured) links up with Conor Murray at half-back (Steve Haag/PA)

Gatland intends trialling combinations for the Test series rather than giving his entire first-choice XV a run-out before the opener against the Springboks in Cape Town on July 24.

As well as half-backs Murray and Biggar and the centre pairing of Aki and Harris, a second row of Maro Itoje and Iain Henderson is a strong contender to face the world champions.

“We’re pleased to have arrived in Cape Town as we near the halfway stage of the series,” Gatland said.

“Wednesday’s game against South Africa ‘A’ will be our toughest encounter since we arrived here and we’re looking forward to it.

Anthony Watson is one of three players retained from the win against the Sharks
Anthony Watson is one of three players retained from the win against the Sharks (Steve Haag/PA)

“We expect them to be physical in the contact area and look to test us at scrum time.

“I think we’ve benefited from playing at altitude in the first three games. While the boys have felt it in their lungs, they’ll be all the better for it now we’re at sea level.

“As we move towards the business end of the tour, it’s pleasing to see so many players putting in some stand-out performances. As coaches we want the players to make Test selection as hard as possible and that’s we’re seeing.”

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