Bryan Habana: Luke Cowan-Dickie is the 'heartbeat' of the Lions

Luke Cowan-Dickie is the ‘heartbeat’ of the British and Irish Lions pack that South Africa should fear in the first Test, claims Bryan Habana… but warns Warren Gatland’s men must improve at the breakdown if they are to execute gameplan against Springboks

  • The British and Irish Lions take on South Africa in the first Test on Saturday 
  • Alun Wyn Jones will start, but it should not be seen as a risk, says Bryan Habana 
  • The former Springbok insists Luke Cowan-Dickie will be key for the tourists 

Alun Wyn Jones may have made an astounding recovery to lead the British and Irish Lions in the first Test against South Africa, but the true heart of the pack lies elsewhere, according Bryan Habana.

The first Test takes place in Cape Town on Saturday evening, with the talismanic Welshman returned to the starting line-up to lead Warren Gatland’s side. 

But it is the presence of Luke Cowan-Dickie in the front row, who excelled against both the Stormers and South Africa ‘A’, that leads Habana to believe the hosts will have their hands full.

‘For me, someone that has come in under the radar is Luke Cowan-Dickie,’ says Habana. 

‘I think his unsung work in terms of ball-carrying ability, his precision at the lineout, his ability to get over the ball and be a threat at the breakdown and gave the Lions a lot positivity on Saturday. 

Luke Cowan-Dickie has gone under the radar as a top Lions performer, says Bryan Habana

‘He knows how to score tries which is something again that the Lions will lead on. It almost feels like he’s basically the heartbeat of that pack. He doesn’t take a step back and is physically imposing. I think the Springboks will need to meet fire with fire.’ 

Jones has made a remarkable recovery after dislocating his shoulder just eight minutes into the warm-up clash with Japan at Murrayfield in June. 

After initially being ruled out of the series, he is back on the pitch less than four weeks later, appearing against the Stormers last Saturday. 

However, Habana insists there should be no question marks surrounding his inclusion.   

‘His return is phenomenal and he’ll be a talismanic leader that all us recently retired under 40 players will be vicariously living through,’ says the 38-year-old.

‘Both Warren Gatland and Alun Wyn Jones and the medical staff are professional to know if he’s right or not.  

Alun Wyn Jones’s return is huge for the Lions but is not a risk, the former winger has insisted

‘I don’t think Alun, given his experience, as proud as he was to be named captain, I don’t think he would have made that decision if he didn’t believe he was 110 per cent ready to do it.’

South Africa are also able to welcome back an imposing figure in the form of Siya Kolisi, their inspirational captain whose story resonated with the country as they stormed to World Cup glory in Japan in 2019. 

After coming back from a spell of isolation due to a COVID outbreak in the South Africa squad, his return is a welcome one for head coach Jacques Nienaber.

But Habana insists there are more prominent threats to the Lions’ chances within the Springboks’ forwards that could give them the upper hand. 

‘We all know the inspirational icon that Siya has become and rightfully so,’ says the Sky Sports pundit, speaking from outside the Cape Town Stadium.

Habana watched the Springboks’ captain’s run on Friday morning in Cape Town

‘I was just out on the field now for captain’s run and you automatically feel the energy he brings. He comes out singing, bringing the positivity and you sort of feel the team feeds off that. 

‘Siya plays an important role but I don’t think it’s the defining role in this team. 

‘For me there’s two players. I think Pieter-Steph du Toit, the player that he has become, moving up from second row to the loosies. 

‘He’s been named SA Rugby Player of the Year three times already, he capped off a significant year in 2019 as World Rugby Player of the Year and justly so ahead of someone like Cheslin Koble. 

‘I think he delivers everything from a physicality, work-rate perspective that the Springboks thrive on, and I think that’s incredibly important.

‘Handre Pollard – playing his 50th Test match this weekend, was touted from a young age as someone who would achieve great honours in SA rugby. He’s proven to be a world beater.’ 

Habana believes Pieter-Steph du Toit is the man the Lions must fear most on Saturday night

Habana says that the events of the last 18 months – not just the pandemic but the current scenes of unrest in South Africa following the arrest of former president Jacob Zuma – puts a massive perspective on the series, but is hoping that the teams can produce a memorable series that goes to the wire.

He is backing South Africa to gain the upper hand on Saturday, and with players like Kolbe to call upon, he believes the hosts have plenty to trouble the Lions. 

‘He’s a phenomenal player,’ Habana beams. ‘Ronan O’Gara in our Sky coverage last Wednesday termed him the Messi of rugby and I really think he is to be honest. 

Cheslin Kolbe was described as the ‘Messi of Rugby’ by Ronan O’Gara, and Habana agrees

‘He’s a joy to watch, I think his charismatic ability to make something out of nothing is something that is exceptional.

‘We saw what Cheslin could do with very little contribution in terms of actually getting his hands on the ball; two opportunities, makes one try and breaks the line in another. 

‘I think from a South African stand point we’d obviously love to see Cheslin get his hands on the ball quite a few more times this Saturday.’

Watch all three of the British & Irish Lions Test matches against South Africa live on Sky Sports The Lions and streaming service NOW.

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