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Friday, 25th June 2021, 5:00 pm

The British & Irish Lions’ eight-game tour to South Africa kicks off next Saturday (July 3) when they play Super Rugby’s DHL Stormers in Cape Town.

Then, three weeks later, the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg will host the first Test against the Springboks, before further games back in Cape Town and Gauteng.

As a curtain-raiser to the much-anticipated tour, the Lions will be playing for only the third time ever on UK soil (following games in Cardiff against Argentina in 2005 and a Rest of the World XV in 1986), when they take on Japan at Murrayfield.

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Lee McKenzie
Lee McKenzie

Lee McKenzie is joined by former Lions head coach Sir Ian McGeechan, two-tour Lions captain Sam Warburton, and South African legend Bryan Habana as he presents a rare chance for rugby fans to see the best of British and Irish rugby on terrestrial TV.

Coach Warren Gatland views the historical fixture, which is the first-ever clash between the Lions and the Brave Blossoms, as an important opportunity to fast-track preparations for the series against the Springboks, given that the tour has already been shortened by two games compared the 2017 tour of New Zealand.

And he believes coach Jamie Joseph’s 2019 World Cup quarter-finalists will provide his side with a stern test.

“We saw Japan play some excellent rugby during the World Cup and they will come to Edinburgh fully motivated to win,” he said.

“They are a talented side who play high-tempo rugby, so it’ll be a good challenge for us ahead of the tour, and a chance for the matchday squad to put their hands up for Test selection.”

Gatland’s squad is led by Alun Wyn Jones, the 35-year-old Ospreys forward who captained Wales to the Six Nations title in March.

But although the Lions are regarded as the cream of British and Irish rugby, it is unlikely that today’s team will be at full-strength due to some players still having club commitments.

Not only that, it will be the first time that many of the individuals have played together, so the clash could be closer than some people think.

Japan’s squad includes 19 players who helped the Brave Blossoms to the RWC quarter-finals in 2019.

And although Joseph’s squad, captained by Michael Leitch, are only ranked 10th in the world, they did beat Ireland and Scotland en route to the last eight in 2019, before losing to eventual champions South Africa.

Depending on changes in Covid restrictions, it is hoped that 16,500 supporters will be able to attend this afternoon’s match in Edinburgh, which will represent the first time supporters will have watched a Test at Murrayfield since March 2020.

The Lions managing director Ben Calveley is in no doubt that the Scottish crowd will give the Lions a great send off.

He says: “It will be brilliant to see a passionate crowd back at Murrayfield for what promises to be a superb game of rugby before we embark on the tour to South Africa.“I am sure it will give the entire touring party an enormous boost to play this fixture in front of Lions fans.”

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