James Haskell unfazed by physical threat of South Africa to Alun Wyn Jones – but laments lack of social experience for Lions due to COVID protocols

James Haskell insists the inclusion of Alun Wyn Jones in the British and Irish Lions team to face South Africa in the First Test on Saturday does NOT weaken the team.

However, the former Lion admits he is gutted the current crop of tourists are missing out on the social aspect of a ‘magical’ experience.

Alun Wyn Jones dislocated his shoulder four weeks before captaining the Lions against South Africa
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Warren Gatland has named a bold side to face the Springboks in Cape Town, with Jones a surprise starter after dislocating his shoulder four weeks ago.

Renowned for their physicality, the reigning world champions boast an impressive pack featuring captain Siya Kolisi who is back having recovered from COVID.

And while Haskell admitted the 35-year-old is certainly replaceable, he does not fear South Africa will target him or his shoulder specifically.

“There are always of dark arts,” Haskell said on Sports Day. “But it’s not a one-on-one battle.

South Africa are renowned for being physical, yet Haskell believes they will be unable to target Wyn Jones
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“This is what people get very excited about in sport; they talk about these one-on-one battles in team sport, occasionally they are there.

“Yet because you have 14 other men on the field, I think trying to target that shoulder would be so difficult to do.

“I just think you would target the team with a real physical thing and I just think he is one man.

“He’s not a Jason Robinson or a Dan Carter – one of these guys who can change the game like the flip of a coin – what he does brilliantly is he is a leader who works like a Trojan, he is incredibly dynamic and he leads from the front.

Jones dislocated his shoulder in a game against Japan last month
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“But he is only a second row! I think if you took him out, there are some amazing second rows on the bench and some amazing people have missed out who would have felt a little bit aggrieved that he has come back in.

“He’s certainly amazing, but I just don’t think you would ever do that because I just don’t know what advantage you get.

“I think it would be so difficult and if you did it in this modern game, you did something outlandish, you would get picked up on it straight away.”

Haskell toured with the Lions in 2017 as they claimed a draw against New Zealand after three intriguing Tests.

Haskell found himself pitted against the Wales legend on several occasions
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Renowned for his hilarity off the pitch and crunching tackles on it, the former Wasps and England flanker was not even originally meant to face the All Blacks that summer.

Yet a late call-up from Gatland changed all that and it made the experience even more special.

“It’s magical, the whole Lions experience in every single way,” he added. “It’s about so much more than playing the rugby.

“The rugby is the most important thing, in terms of getting the win, but it’s about bringing together a whole set of players who would never normally be together.

The camaraderie of a Lions tour is unmatched in sport
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“You would always play international rugby against them, you don’t really know them, you get to knock seven bells out of each other and then you get time to spend and bond.

“It’s the best of the best in one place, but it is so much about the emotions on and off the field and the camaraderie.

“It’s the most magical experience and, without a shadow of a doubt, the best touring experience that I have ever had. There were three or four players that I thought, ‘I’m never going to get on with these guys.’

“I played Jonny Sexton for Ireland so many times and we would always have a bit of a fracas and these moments. Then we became bosom buddies, same thing with Dan Biggar and Sean O’Brien.

Wales fly-half Dan Biggar became friends with Haskell during the 2017 tour to New Zealand
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“You stay friends for life and you are bonded by it. These guys in South Africa are having a different experience, but because they are locked in the hotel, they are just not getting the same kind of social experience.

“But, if they win, there is nothing better at bonding a team than winning.”

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