British and Irish Lions 2021: Key head to heads for South Africa Test and readers' XV

A split picture of Faf de Klerk and Ali Price
Scotland scrum-half Ali Price (right) has been chosen to face South Africa's Faf de Klerk in the first Test
South Africa v British and Irish Lions - first Test
Venue: Cape Town Stadium Date: Saturday, 24 July Kick-off: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Both sides for the first British and Irish Lions Test against South Africa may already have been named, but the debate rages on.

Whether or not Warren Gatland has made the right calls will be revealed on Saturday and the Lions head coach himself admitted it was the hardest Test selection he had ever been involved with.

More than 80,000 BBC Sport readers picked their Lions starting XV and their selection differed from Gatland in five areas.

Here, we take a closer look at what Gatland's choices in those positions were and who they will be up against on Saturday.

Short presentational grey line

British and Irish Lions to face South Africa: Hogg; A Watson, Daly, Henshaw, Van Der Merwe; Biggar, Price; W Jones, Cowan-Dickie, Furlong, Itoje, AW Jones (capt), Lawes, Curry, Conan.

Replacements: Owens, Sutherland, Sinckler, Beirne, H Watson, Murray, Farrell, L Williams.

BBC Sport readers' Lions XV: Williams; A Watson, Daly, Henshaw, Adams; Biggar, Murray; W Jones, Cowan-Dickie, Furlong, Itoje, AW Jones, Beirne, Curry, Faletau.

Short presentational grey line

Hogg v Le Roux

Full-back was a close call for BBC Sport readers, with 48% plumping for Wales' Liam Williams and 46% Scotland's Stuart Hogg.

But Gatland's decision is of course the one that matters and he went for the Scotland captain, who will make his first Test start having toured with the Lions twice before.

Although he did not test positive for Covid-19, Hogg did have to isolate as a close contact but his fitness appeared unaffected as he played 80 minutes to captain the side to victory against the Stormers on Saturday.

Williams is on the bench and has been fairly faultless on the tour so far, but Gatland seems to value Hogg's creativity more in the starting role.

The Scot will be up against South Africa's Willie le Roux - a former World Player of the Year nominee who looked back to his best when he helped the Springboks win the 2019 World Cup.

Van der Merwe v Kolbe

Wing Cheslin Kolbe is one of the Springboks' greatest threats and lived up to his poster-boy status when he set up a try for Lukhanyo Am in South Africa A's victory against the Lions.

The 27-year-old gathered a kick and slipped through a tiny gap to serve the Lions a reminder of just how tight their defence must be.

Gatland has chosen to counteract this with the physical presence of South Africa-born Duhan van der Merwe, who earned 24% of BBC Sport readers' votes while 42% would have preferred prolific try-scorer Josh Adams in this position.

The Welshman scored eight tries in three games for the Lions and Van der Merwe has five so far. The emotional boost Van der Merwe will get playing the country of his birth coupled with his physicality may be just what the Lions need to neutralise Kolbe.

Gatland on Josh Adams omission

Price v De Klerk

Ali Price put his hand up for selection in the final warm-up game when he displayed the extra pace he can inject into the Lions' attack.

Experienced Lion Conor Murray - who was briefly tour captain - earned 52% of readers' votes, while Price had 39%.

Murray is poised to make an impact off the bench and both will have their hands full with World Cup winner Faf de Klerk.

The provocative scrum-half is one of South Africa's key players and Price will have to be on the lookout for his sniping runs around rucks, while the Lions as a whole will be tested by his kicking game.

Lawes and Curry v Kolisi and Du Toit

Courtney Lawes playing for the Lions
Courtney Lawes earned two Test caps as a replacement on the 2017 Lions tour of New Zealand

The back row may have been Gatland's toughest selection area, whereas for South Africa counterpart Jacques Nienaber there were two standout choices.

England flankers Courtney Lawes and Tom Curry face talismanic Springbok captain Siya Kolisi and 2019 Men's World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit at Cape Town Stadium.

Curry has long been touted for a starting spot but Lawes may have come as a surprise to some, with 9% of readers choosing the versatile forward at flanker in their starting XV and 47% going for Ireland's Tadhg Beirne instead.

Beirne impressed with the intensity he brought to the warm-up games and Gatland no doubt hopes that fire will have an impact off the bench, with the experienced Lawes preferred to start things off.

Conan v Smith

Taulupe Faletau - who started all three Tests in 2017 - was the number eight chosen by 52% of BBC Sport readers, while Jack Conan was picked in 12% of teams.

It is Ireland's Conan who gets the go-ahead from Gatland, with Faletau left out of the matchday 23 altogether.

There is not much in the stats to separate the pair, but Conan seems to offer more at the breakdown where he has won three turnovers and lost zero on tour so far, while Faletau has won one and lost two.

Conan will be up against the relatively inexperienced Kwagga Smith, who will be making just his second start at number eight for South Africa in the absence of the injured Duane Vermeulen.

"It is definitely the biggest game of my life so far," Conan said.

"I want to be at the forefront of everything that happens. I want to be carrying the ball and making defensive hits. I won't be sitting back and waiting for the weekend to come to me."

You can still pick your starting XV below, but it will not count towards the final results.

British and Irish Lions 2021 XV

Pick your starting XV for the second Lions Test on 31 July.

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