sport news SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Lions need to win on Saturday or they will be whitewashed...

sport news SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Lions need to win on Saturday or they will be whitewashed...
sport news SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: Lions need to win on Saturday or they will be whitewashed...

The Lions will never have a better chance of winning an opening Test... and it's important they do because if they lose, I fear they will get whitewashed.

Both sides have endured all sorts of difficulties during these Covid times, but in that respect the Lions have had a marginally easier ride. The Boks will get better as the series progresses, so the Lions need a quick start.

Since the 2019 Rugby World Cup, the Lions players have participated in two Six Nations tournaments and one Autumn Cup for their countries. Even on this curtailed tour, they have enjoyed six matches if you include the Japan warm-up game at Murrayfield.

Warren Gatland's Lions will 'never have a better chance' of winning an opening test match

Warren Gatland's Lions will 'never have a better chance' of winning an opening test match

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Some of the opposition since they arrived in South Africa has been of inferior quality which is a story in itself going forward, but time spent together as a squad is still priceless.

South Africa, by contrast, have played just one Test since their World Cup triumph, a friendly victory against Georgia a few weeks ago, although the South Africa A match against the Lions was a welcome opportunity to blow the cobwebs out.

Some of their combinations must be rusty, which is why I am expecting a very basic game plan from the Boks. Another thought crosses my mind — if the Lions encounter the Boks side who put away a woeful England in the World Cup final, it's going to be very difficult indeed.

But I was in Japan and wasn't really impressed with them against Wales or Japan, nor when they lost to New Zealand.

The South Africans beat Georgia in their only test since winning the World Cup in 2020

The South Africans beat Georgia in their only test since winning the World Cup in 2020

The Boks struck me as a team put together brilliantly in a short time by Rassie Erasmus, who suddenly found their A-game in the final after being written off by most pundits.

It was absolutely perfect timing in fairness but they have been denied the chance to crack on. They haven't had the opportunity to consolidate that performance and develop as a team.

Can they pick up where they left off in Tokyo 20 months ago? Possibly, possibly not. The Lions must prey on that uncertainty, and, as ever, get out of the blocks quickly.

Covid or no Covid, South Africa will be ready physically. Unless you can match that, you have no chance. Perhaps that's an old cliche but it's as true as ever.

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Rassie Erasmus has put together a formidable Springboks side in a short space of time

Rassie Erasmus has put together a formidable Springboks side in a short space of time

The Lions must be ready to explode out of the blocks — fearless rugby and nothing taken for granted. England got their preparation badly wrong before their final against South Africa.

Playing for the Lions is a great honour but it comes around every four years. Playing against the Lions is an even greater honour — once every 12 years.

The Lions need to match that hunger and urgency. Having a strong contingent of England players, smarting from the near humiliation of the World Cup final, will help. We are about to find out exactly how good the world champions are and if the Lions can win the one-on-one battles, they have a major chance.

South Africa do have some amazing players. I've always admired Eben Etzebeth and Franco Mostert in the second row and their three front-row forwards on the bench are arguably stronger than the guys they are starting with. Hooker Malcolm Marx is a one-man army of a player.

Franco Mostert is just one of a number of amazing players that the South Africans possess

Franco Mostert is just one of a number of amazing players that the South Africans possess

In the back row, Pieter-Steph du Toit was voted World Player of the Year in 2019 and if there had been such an award in 2020, it would possibly have gone to Cheslin Kolbe for his consistent brilliance on the Toulouse wing.

Siya Kolisi is such an inspiring captain at flanker and Faf de Klerk is a talismanic figure at scrum-half who basically runs the show. That is almost always a huge strength for the Boks but it

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