South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus believes Warren Gatland has picked a British and Irish Lions squad that can “play at altitude”.
Lions head coach Gatland made a number of surprising selections in his 37-man squad for this summer’s tour of South Africa, with many in-form players selected ahead of more experienced players.
Erasmus was speaking at a media briefing ahead of the series between the Lions and the Springboks and noted the emphasis on speed in Gatland’s forward pack.
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“Look, Jacques [Nienaber] and I had a chat about this, we studied the Lions squad and it has fast loose forwards and it is explosive,” Erasmus said, via RugbyPass.
“I’m not sure if Courtney Lawes will back up flank/lock, but I know Tadhg Beirne. I signed him for Munster from the Scarlets, I know what he can do.
“Then if you look at the other loose forwards, the whole pack, the props are mobile and fast. It’s interesting the way he [Gatland] selected that squad. It’s almost a team that can play at the high veldt in winter at altitude.”
Erasmus’ praise for Sam Simmonds.
One of the most highly-celebrated selections in Gatland’s 37-man Lions squad was that of Sam Simmonds, who hasn’t played international rugby for England since 2018.
Simmonds has been in fantastic form for Exeter Chiefs over the last three years and he recently broke the record for the most tries in a single Gallagher Premiership season, but has seemingly failed to impress England head coach Eddie Jones.
Erasmus commented on Simmonds’ inclusion in the squad, noting his form with his club and his impressive agility for a back-row forward.
“Those boys can move and him [Simmonds] specifically. He has made his mark, not from nowhere but he just stamped his authority and the way he was playing for his club [Exeter] he was tough to ignore,” Erasmus said.
“I don’t know the selection policy but it looks like a really good pack to me.”
The Lions will play Japan in Edinburgh on June 26 before setting off for South Africa. They will play their first match of the tour against the Johannesburg-based Lions on the July 3, before coming face to face with the Springboks in the first test of the series on the July 24.