by British & Irish Lions
17 April 2023 08:45 Reading Time: 2 mins
Rosko Specman, Aphelele Fassi and Jasper Wiese are in line to make their Springbok debuts on Friday when the Rugby World Cup champions line up against Georgia at Loftus Versfeld in the team’s first Test since lifting the Webb Ellis Cup in November 2019.
Toyota Cheetahs speedster Specman – who is no stranger to international rugby with an Olympic Games bronze medal and numerous Blitzbok tournament successes to his name – will start on the right wing, while Fassi, who has been in hot form for the Cell C Sharks, has been named on the left wing.
Wiese, a former star for the Toyota Cheetahs who has since moved to the Leicester Tigers, has been included on the bench and will earn his first Test cap should he take the field.
Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber, who will guide the Springboks in his first Test as head coach, named 18 Rugby World Cup winners in his matchday squad – 12 of whom featured in their 32-12 final triumph against England.
Six of these 12 players will start against Georgia. They are Bok captain Siya Kolisi and his loose forward partner Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth (lock), Bongi Mbonambi (hooker), Willie le Roux (fullback) and Handré Pollard (flyhalf).
The other players who featured in the grand finale of the international extravaganza are Frans Steyn (centre), Franco Mostert (lock), Malcolm Marx (hooker), Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe (both props) and Herschel Jantjies (scrumhalf).
Kolisi will earn his 51st Test cap after striking his half century in the RWC final, while Pollard, Kitshoff and Kriel will all take a step closer to reaching the significant career milestone of 50 caps. Pollard will earn his 49th Test cap and Kriel his 47th, while Kitshoff will earn his 48th cap if he takes the field.
“We have selected the best team with an eye on what we would like to achieve in this Test against Georgia and we believe that we have a good balance with a number of experienced campaigners and a few young players who have made a strong statement this season,” said Nienaber.
“Most of the players in this squad are Rugby World Cup winners, while others have been part of the national squad for a few seasons, and this will be invaluable against a team that boast the passion that Georgia exhibit.
“We are also excited to see what the uncapped players bring to the table after impressive performances for their franchises in the last few seasons. Each one of them has proved that they deserve an opportunity at this level, and the commitment and enthusiasm they displayed at training has been striking.”
Nienaber was excited to return to the field after a 19-month absence from international rugby and said the physical challenge they would face against Georgia was exactly what they needed to prepare themselves mentally and physically as they look forward to the Castle Lager Lions Series.
“We are expecting Georgia to come out guns blazing with their passionate and physical rugby, so we need to find our rhythm early on and build up a good 80-minute performance,” said Nienaber.
“We know how big this challenge will be, but it is vital that we build a solid foundation in the next two Tests in order to refine our skill set, match readiness and ability to perform under pressure.”
Springbok team to face Georgia at Loftus Versfeld:
Facts and Stats
Head to head v Georgia
Played: 1, Won: 1; Points for: 46; Points against: 19; Tries for: 7; Tries against: 1; Win%: 100%
The British & Irish Lions and Rugby Australia have today announced the creation of a joint venture for the 2025 Tour to Australia.
The joint venture model which was successfully introduced for the 2021 Tour of South Africa aims to maximise the Tour’s offering by bringing together two of the biggest brands in world rugby to work in a more collaborative and engaging way.
Under the terms of this joint venture, the Lions and Rugby Australia will combine their commercial offering, providing broadcasters, partners, and licensees the opportunity to fully leverage and activate across a centralised programme.
With fan engagement a key priority for both the Lions and Rugby Australia, the joint venture will support a collaborative approach to data, digital and social content providing both organisations the opportunity to engage with the growing global rugby fanbase. The joint venture model also aims to bring fans closer to the action with exclusive behind the scenes footage from both camps.
The 2025 Tour to Australia promises to be one of the most eagerly anticipated tours in history considering the absence of fans for the 2021 Tour of South Africa.
Ben Calveley, CEO of The British & Irish Lions commented, “We are incredibly excited to be working in partnership with Rugby Australia for the 2025 Tour. Our purpose is to unite and inspire through extraordinary rugby experiences and the creation of this joint venture sees the Lions unite with Rugby Australia to develop the best possible fan engagement and commercial platform for the Tour.
“This collaborative approach will ensure that 2025 reaches new heights, especially with the return of tens of thousands of travelling Lions supporters and will be a global sporting event not to be missed.”
Commenting on the announcement, Rugby Australia CEO, Andy Marinos, said: “Rugby Australia is thrilled to be welcoming The British & Irish Lions back to these shores for the first time in 12 years.
“A Lions Tour is one of the great occasions in sport, and we are looking forward to welcoming the Lions and their fans back to Australia – especially after the last few years of global uncertainty due to COVID.
“It is especially pleasing to be able to confirm the commercial joint venture that we are entering into with the Lions – and we firmly believe that this agreement presents both parties with the best opportunity to realise the commercial potential of this Tour while engaging deeply with all sports fans.
“With the Lions Tour in 2025, and home Rugby World Cups in 2027 and 2029, we have a real opportunity for Rugby in Australia to establish a legacy that will benefit the game in this country for decades to come.
“We have now begun our work with the Lions to ensure we deliver a Tour that captures the imagination of fans across Australia and Lions fans around the world, as well as maximising the commercial return –it is an exciting opportunity for us all.”
Source – British & Irish Lions
British & Irish Lions loosehead prop Jack McGrath has announced his retirement from the game at the age of 33 to spend more time with his family.
Over the course of his career, McGrath won 59 caps for Ireland, while he was part of the Lions team that drew the Test series in New Zealand in 2017.
During his team on that Tour, McGrath made seven appearances, the first coming as a starter in the clash with the Blues before coming off the bench in six more games.
That included appearances as a replacement in all three Tests, as the Lions and the All Blacks drew 1-1.
Prior to that, McGrath had been a key figure for Ireland in two victorious Six Nations campaigns in 2014 and 2015, as well as starting their historic first win over the All Blacks in 2016.
However, a serious hip injury disrupted the latter part of McGrath’s career, and he was released by Ulster at the end of last season.
Now, at the age of 33, McGrath has made the decision to call time on his career, explaining in a statement that his priority is his family, rather than attempting to make another comeback.
“This decision has taken a considerable amount of time, it has been one of the hardest I’ve ever had to make,” McGrath said.
“The last few years have been extremely testing for myself and my family, both mentally and physically. I feel I have given everything to my rugby career and I have no regrets or anything left to prove.
“It’s been a long road of rehabilitation after two hip resurfacing operations. My main focus now is my family and I am excited for this next chapter with them.
“I am in a position now where I have a comfortable, pain-free life and can be an active dad, which I have chosen over going back to play rugby.”
Source – British & Irish Lions
Tributes have been paid to British & Irish Lion #670 and MND campaigner Doddie Weir who has died aged 52.
Weir was called up to the 1997 Lions squad to South Africa and although his tour was cut short due to a nasty injury sustained against Mpumalanga Province, he still described it as one of the greatest experiences of his career.
The second row played 61 times for Scotland, scoring four tries, including two against New Zealand in the 1995 Rugby World Cup quarter-final, making him the only Scottish player in history to score twice against the All Blacks.
He was a club legend at both Newcastle Falcons and Border Reivers, starring in the Falcons side that won the Premiership title in 1998.
In 2017, Weir was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, and became one of the most vocal and prominent campaigners in the world – setting up his charity My Name’5 Doddie Foundation, which has raised more than £5 million since being launched.
Tributes have poured in to honour a true legend of the game both on the pitch and off it, with fellow British & Irish Lion and legendary commentator Brian Moore calling Weir an “outstanding man”.
Very sorry to hear about the death of Doddie Weir. An outstanding man in every sense and one who will be sorely missed.
RIP Big Man.
— Brian Moore (@brianmoore666) November 26, 2022
Weir’s impact on Scottish rugby cannot be overstated and another of the nation’s rugby legends and a former teammate of Weir’s Scott Hastings called him “the most lovable man in the world”.
We lost the most lovable man in the world today!
DODDIE WEIR we will honour your legacy & find a cure for MND @MNDoddie5 #tacklemnd #doddieaid #united2endmnd pic.twitter.com/HjYS2S4bmD
— Scott Hastings (@ScottHastings13) November 26, 2022
He has been such an inspiration since his diagnosis, raising both significant funds and also the profile of MND and that has led to him becoming a true national hero, with Scottish footballing icon Sir Kenny Dalglish praising him for his fight against the disease.
Very sad to hear the news about Doddie Weir. He led my example, inspiring so many others with MND and made great strides towards treatment and ultimately finding a cure for the disease. He leaves behind an incredible legacy. Our sympathy goes to his wife and 3 boys. RIP Doddie 🏴 https://t.co/0ukiPsOPaO
— Sir Kenny Dalglish (@kennethdalglish) November 26, 2022
The news came during England’s match with South Africa at Twickenham, and when the announcement was made, the whole crowd rose to their feet for a round of applause to show their respects.
Former England captain Dylan Hartley and South African World Cup winner Bryan Habana spoke of Weir’s legacy both in and out of the sport.
Habana said: “He embodied everything the game stands for in terms of respect, charisma, spirit in which the game is played and the humour with which he embraced fellow teammates.
“What he brought to the game of rugby, he was a phenomenal player and what he has done in the last decade with a disease that would have seen a lot of people die a lot earlier, and how much money he has raised.
“Even with the struggles, to be able to walk two or three kilometres, just to be able to show to the world, the character he has.
“To his family, his loved ones, the deepest respect for someone who really lit up this world and made it a better place.”
“He embodied everything the game stands for”
The Prime Video team speak about Doddie Weir after the sad news of his passing pic.twitter.com/fuEcrsKELP
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) November 26, 2022
The tributes kept pouring in, from presenter Gabby Logan – who last year appeared on TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire to raise money for the foundation, to cycling great Sir Chris Hoy.
Dearest Doddie you have inspired so many people on the rugby pitch and in your relentless campaigning for MND. We were lucky to call you a friend. To see you as the adoring husband to Cathy and the best Dad to Hamish, Angus and Ben was to really know you. We will all miss you 💙
— Gabby Logan (@GabbyLogan) November 26, 2022
Even though we knew it was inevitable, it’s no less of a shock. Rest in peace Doddie, we’ll all keep fighting to help find a cure. 💔 pic.twitter.com/WzKMQWdnmo
— Sir Chris Hoy (@chrishoy) November 26, 2022
Outside the world of sport, author and Scotland fan JK Rowling paid her respects, as did the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Incredibly sad to hear about the death of Doddie Weir. A wonderful, funny, warm and courageous man who’ll be deeply missed. pic.twitter.com/bZQ9tVCRxR
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) November 26, 2022
Doddie Weir was a hero – we are so sad to hear of his passing. His immense talent on the pitch as well as his tireless efforts to raise awareness of MND were an inspiration. Our thoughts are with all those who loved him. He will be hugely missed across the entire rugby world. W&C
— The Prince and Princess of Wales (@KensingtonRoyal) November 26, 2022
Leeds Rhinos great and Leicester Tigers assistant coach Kevin Sinfield, who recently completed seven back-to-back ultra marathons, starting at BT Murrayfield where Weir presented the match ball for Scotland v New Zealand, released a statement.
He said: “Today is a deeply sad day for everyone who knew Doddie but especially his family, who are at the forefront of our thoughts.
“Doddie was a giant as a player but his campaigning following his MND diagnosis made him a colossus.
“When Bryan Redpath first put me in touch with Doddie to speak to Rob Burrow following Rob’s own diagnosis, he immediately said yes without hesitation. The sight of 5’4” Rob and 6’6” Doddie was something that will live with all of us and probably bonded the duo with the great humour they shared.
“Doddie was able to give Rob the greatest gift of hope that night. He has been like a big brother to all of us since that day.
“I know, on behalf of the whole Ultra 7 in 7 team, it was our ultimate honour that Doddie was at Murrayfield just two weeks ago when we set off on our fundraising challenge.
“With his trademark smile, he insisted that he wanted to be there with his new pink trainers on! The fact that a proportion of the money raised from the Ultra 7 in 7 will go to the Foundation set up by Doddie has particular poignancy as we look to continue his legacy on in the years ahead.
“I am honoured to have been able to call Doddie my friend and I know his spirit lives on in all of us who knew him. He will always be a champion.”
Source – British & Irish Lions
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