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Cat fight … British and Irish Lions pick strong side for Joburg Lions

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The balance of the British and Irish Lions squad that did not get an airing against Japan last week will spring into action against the local Lions for their tour opener.

Scotland’s Finn Russell will start at flyhalf for the British and Irish Lions against the Lions from Johannesburg. Picture: Kevin Coombs/Reuters

DURBAN – The balance of the British and Irish Lions squad that did not get an airing against Japan last week will spring into action against the local Lions in Saturdays’ long-awaited tour opener at Ellis Park in Johannesburg (5pm kick-off).

Coach Warren Gatland is being true to his world that he will keep an open mind on the selection of the match-23 for the first Test and that all the tourists will get a crack at proving their worth before he nails down his Test side.

However you view it, this is an incredibly strong side and it should be way too much for the locals, especially given that each player has everything to play for in the fight for Test places.

Next week, the Lions play the Sharks at the same venue and the side for that match should be getting closer to what the Test side could look like.

Scotland’s Stuart Hogg leads a starting 15 that has just one survivor from the 28-10 defeat of Japan in wing Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales).

Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales) Chris Harris (Scotland) and Jonny Hill (England) will make their Lions debuts in the first of the eight tour games

Replacements Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Zander Fagerson (Scotland), Sam Simmonds (England) and Gareth Davies (Wales) are also in line to make their first appearances in the famous red jersey.

“It’s good to have arrived in Johannesburg and to get the tour under way,” Gatland said.

“We had a pleasing win last week up in Edinburgh, but there’s still plenty we need to get right on Saturday.

“I’ve been encouraged by the way the boys have trained this week. I feel it’s gone up a level from where we were in Jersey and we’re starting to see a better understanding of some of our tactics.

“There are some new player combinations for us to have a look at this Saturday – which is good information for us as the Test Series approaches.

British and Irish Lions (15-1): Stuart Hogg (captain), Louis Rees-Zammit, Chris Harris, Owen Farrell, Josh Adams, Finn Russell, Ali Price, Taulupe Faletau, Hamish Watson, Courtney Lawes, Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Wyn Jones.

Replacements (16-23): Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Bundee Aki, Elliot Daly.

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