Gatland focuses on itinerary after naming vastly changed Lions team

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British and Irish Lions flanker Tadhg Beirne celebrates after scoring a try during a warm-up victory over Japan in Edinburgh last Saturday
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British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland said on Thursday he was not worried about the mental challenges of playing rugby in a Covid-restricted environment on his team's tour of South Africa.

Gatland was speaking in an online media conference after naming Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg as captain for the opening match of their South African tour against the Golden Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.

The starting side includes only one player, winger Josh Adams, who started in the 28-10 win against Japan in Edinburgh last Saturday.

Tour captain and scrum-half Conor Murray was not named in the matchday squad.

Gatland said the itinerary was a bigger challenge than the "new normal" of being in a bio-secure environment.

"There's not a heck of a lot of difference from normal campaigns apart from not having the same freedoms of getting out of the hotel, grabbing a cup of coffee and having a look around.

"The challenge for us now is playing two games a week."

If all the players named in the starting team and substitutes get game time on Saturday, 34 of his 37-man squad will have played either in Edinburgh or Johannesburg. The only exceptions are forwards Adam Beard, Tom Curry and Josh Navidi.

Beard and Navidi were late additions to the squad after captain Alun Wyn Jones and fellow forward Justin Tipuric were injured against the Brave Blossoms.

Saturday's match is the start of a hectic programme of five matches in 15 days in the build-up to the first Test in Cape Town on July 24, with matches every Saturday and Wednesday until their fixture against the Stormers on July 17.

Full-back Hogg will have an early chance to show his credentials after being dropped to the substitutes' bench by Exeter Chiefs in the Premiership play-offs, which ended with a final defeat by the Harlequins last Saturday.

The selection of Courtney Lawes, normally a lock, on the flank suggests that lineout possession will be a priority for the tourists.

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

"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."

Gauteng province, where the Lions will play their first three matches as well as the last two Tests, is the area worst affected by Covid-19 in South Africa, where 19,506 new cases were reported on Wednesday.

South Africa is the African country worst affected by the pandemic with 1.97 million cases and 60,647 deaths by Wednesday.

Lions team

(15-1)

Stuart Hogg (capt); 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: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Zander Fagerson, Iain Henderson, Sam Simmonds, Gareth Davies, Bundee Aki, Elliot Daly

Coach: Warren Gatland (NZL)

cb-dl/bsp/iwd

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