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Miles Harrison: Living Room with the Lions in 2021

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Sky Sports Rugby’s lead commentator Miles Harrison has had to step aside for the British and Irish Lions’ tour to South Africa following surgery for colon cancer. Below, he offers his second column for the tour: Living Room with the Lions.

Miles Harrison is back with his second column for the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, as he recovers from surgery for colon cancer

Miles Harrison is back with his second column for the 2021 British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa, as he recovers from surgery for colon cancer

In each and every British and Irish Lions tour that has been broadcasted live on Sky Sports since 1997, Miles Harrison has been lead commentator. 

His voice is synonymous with the Lions, their successes and failures. This year, Miles had to step aside for the tour to South Africa, however, as our dear colleague is rec overing following surgery for colon cancer.

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As such, rather than taking in the Lions tour of 2021 on the mic, Miles will be taking it in from his living room, and in the spirit of the Lions’ epic 1997 documentary Living with Lions, our own broadcasting great is contributing a column: Living Room with the Lions.

Selection headaches

Unprecedented times, so today we have the Sharks ‘Take Two’ albeit with a fresh look to both teams. From the Lions perspective, more opportunity to put hands up for Test match selection but, when you take into account the clash of the Japan game with the Premiership Final and now all of what is happening in South Africa, never before have Lions selection plans been so compromised. Just as well then that never before has selection been so wide open.

Duhan van der Merwe has been impressive for the Lions Duhan van der Merwe has been impressive for the Lions

In the action we have seen so far (and, yes, we have to acknowledge that the opposition has not exactly been testing), the management could not have been more impressed by the showing of hands for inclusion for that first Test. For example, take the back three. This particular selection conundrum is becoming almost impossible to decipher.

Stuart Hogg, Liam Williams and Anthony Watson all have proven world-class qualities and vital versatility. But, how is Warren Gatland not going to involve the prodigious Josh Adams, who has shown that he can play wing and full-back; plus there’s the lethal Louis Rees-Zammit; and Duhan van der Merwe who could not be doing any more to point to the unique talent he could offer.

Anthony Watson needs a big game against the Sharks Anthony Watson needs a big game against the Sharks

Van der Merwe gets the chance to go again today with Williams and Watson who, despite his reputation, needs a big one today now that he has the stage. Supporters will be watching closely to see how this selection headache to end all headaches develops over the next week.

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‘By George’

A word on Jamie George who has the honour of leading the Lions on Satr. For years he sat patiently behind the then England captain Dylan Hartley, warming the bench.

Jamie George skippers the Lions against the Sharks on Saturday Jamie George skippers the Lions against the Sharks on Saturday

That apprenticeship has long since concluded but this is a moment when the amiable Saracen can certainly say that patience was a virtue. He is a top boke and, on Saturday, he gets the top job.

Siya’s presence

South Africa's Siya Kolisi has a special aura about him South Africa’s Siya Kolisi has a special aura about him

South Africa’s own preparations for the series could not have been any more decimated, with Covid determining that last week’s, now one-off Test, against Georgia stands in isolation as the Springboks only Test match since their Rugby World Cup triumph in 2019. Had somebody said that would be the case on that famous day in Yokohama, then nobody would have believed them. The world has changed alright.

The Springboks do have two major things in their favour though. First, the squad has stayed very much together and their knowledge of each other is deep and trusted. Plus, of course, they have their captain, Siya Kolisi, their talisman that day versus England and all set to perform a similar role in the forthcoming series.

I recall meeting Siya for the first time on the England tour of 2018. He was escorted into the television interview room and I was immediately aware of his aura and presence. Some people just have it and Siya is one of them. His country needs his presence again.

Whistle to mic

Nigel Owens was unavailable for selection for commentary duties on Wednesday night but, rest assured, he will be back on the broadcast team from this weekend. I, for one, can’t wait to hear more from the world-renowned referee. His contributions were highly informative and entertaining additions to Sky’s coverage.

As Nigel has proved in his media work elsewhere, he is as made for broadcasting as he is officiating and that is saying something! Indeed, I can see the role of a referee broadcaster being a key part of the rugby broadcasting landscape in the years to come.

Nigel Owens has made a seamless transition into broadcasting Nigel Owens has made a seamless transition into broadcasting

Wayne Barnes, another natural with whistle or mic, has been making excellent contributions as part of the live Premiership coverage and also with his online videos of law explanation. In Nigel and Wayne we have been blessed with two of the greatest referees; now, we are benefitting from their communication skills in a different way and it’s great to watch, listen and learn.

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