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Tuesday Aug 3, 2021

The two replacement 10s who could each decide the Lions series

The squads for the final test of the British and Irish Lions tour of South Africa were announced today, yet perhaps the biggest talking point may centre around two players not in the starting XV in each side.

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Indeed, they are two players in the same position, who potentially hold the keys to a series win for their team.

The attention could be focused firmly on fly-halves Morné Styen for the Springboks, and Finn Russell for the Lions come Saturday evening.

Two very different players, but two players who can turn a match on its head given the right opportunity in the right match.

Despite this, there are many differences between the two; most notably that Steyn has actually won a Lions test series – through his own boot in a dramatic second test in 2009 – while Russell has far more limited time in the touring squad full stop, let alone the test matches.

For Russell, it’s a return to the red jersey after fearing that his tour might have been over early doors after an achilles tear, and possibly just what the Lions need if head coach Warren Gatland is aiming to “keep the tempo of the game up”, as he revealed at the squad announcement.

Russell’s attacking game is undeniable and if the Lions want to increase the ‘ball in play’ time compared to last week’s 27-9 defeat, then Russell could play a key role in the final quarter, when defences typically begin to tire.

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Speaking about the potential impact Russell could bring to the third test, Gatland said: “he brings something a little bit different and when things do start to loosen up in the second half, and we do get some ball and more tempo, he can add to that.”

For the Springboks, it’s a different story altogether. The stop-start nature of last week’s second test suited South Africa to a tee and, if the final match is a tight affair, expect Steyn to come on to control the game: either territorially or by kicking long-range penalties.

Steyn has an attacking game, but it’s safe to say it’s not up there with Russell’s ability to turn momentum from one side to the other. It’ll be a fascinating battle between the two 10s, even though the prospect of them actually squaring up to each other directly is quite low.

SOUTH AFRICA:

Le Roux; Kolbe, Am, De Allende, Mapimpi; Pollard, Reinach; Kitshoff, Mbonambi, Malherbe, Etzebeth, De Jager, Kolisi (c), Mostert, Wiese

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Replacements: Marx, Nyakane, Koch, Van Staden, Smith, Jantjies, Steyn, Willemse

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS:

Williams; Adams, Henshaw, Aki, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Price; Jones, Owens, Furlong, Itoje, A Wyn Jones (c), Lawes, Curry, Conan

Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Vunipola, Sinckler, Beard, Simmonds, Murray, Russell, Daly

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