The grand old Springbok citadel of Ellis Park has rarely been more achingly empty, but the British & Irish Lions will take significant heart from this opening foray on South African soil. The scoreboard does not lie: the touring side are up and running and showing sufficient early promise to suggest they will create problems with ball in hand in the coming weeks.
While not everything went to hand, as is invariably the case with players still growing accustomed to each other, the tempo at which the Lions sought to play was highly encouraging, resulting in a hefty haul of four tries for Josh Adams on the left wing and a debut score for the touring side’s youngest player, the 20-year-old Louis Rees-Zammit.
There were also positive contributions from a trio of Scots – Hamish Watson, Chris Harris and Finn Russell who all did enough to merit a mention in Warren Gatland’s debrief.
The Lions will meet stronger opposition than these provincial namesakes but the energy of Watson, the defensive efforts of Harris and the enterprise of Russell made a favourable impression.
If there was the odd caveat –Russell and Owen Farrell will clearly need more time together to locate the same midfield wavelength – the pacy late impact of Elliot Daly and Sam Simmonds also boded well for the stiffer challenges ahead.
No one will recall this fixture, しかしながら, with more obvious pleasure than the 26-year-old Adams, the top scorer at the 2019 ラグビーワールドカップ, who once again underlined what a quality poacher he has become. No individual has scored more tries in a Lions fixture since another Welsh winger, Shane Williams, に 2005.
On such an abbreviated tour, and given the Covid-19 backdrop, it represented a more than decent start all round. 四年前, the jet-lagged Lions were falling asleep on the bus to their first game against the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei. The last time they toured South Africa they were notably rusty first up in Rustenburg and as far back as 2005 the abrupt early loss of Lawrence Dallaglio against the Bay of Plenty set the tone for a tour where little went right.
Slightly more encouraging memories included John Bentley’s spectacular score against the Gauteng Lions in 1997 そしてその 74-10 win over the same provincial opposition in 2009.
The Lions set off as if intent on registering another cricket score Their first try, was a beauty that boded well on a number of fronts: Russell opting to run rather than kick, cleverly stretching the defence, before Harris’s chip fell nicely for a speeding Rees-Zammit, the youngest Lions debutant since 1986, to score after three minutes.
Watson powered through some slightly questionable defence four minutes later to touch down under the posts and help his side into a healthy 14-0 lead.
Another lively Scot, Ali Price, also grabbed himself a five-pointer courtesy of some home doziness, a long lineout throw over the top from Jamie George finding Farrell, who swivelled and then put Price into a ridiculously big midfield gap to score.
That is exactly the sort of unexpected, well-executed ploy the Lions will need to employ to wrongfoot the mountainous Bok forwards in the Test series and there would have been a fourth try from close range for prop Wyn Jones had Courtney Lawes not been penalised for a dangerous clear-out at a ruck.
The man doing most to keep the hosts in the game was their impressive back-row forward Vincent Tshituka, who finished off a long-range breakout to peg the half-time margin back to 21-7.
Within 49 seconds of the restart, でも, the Lions were back on the scoresheet, Adams blasting his way over in typical poacher’s fashion.
Despite another home try for Rabs Maxwane and a stirring burst from Tshituka that required a fine covering tackle from the captain, Stuart Hogg, the rest was largely one way traffic.
The pick of the Lions’ remaining tries were a lovely short-iron chip from Russell, whose range of attacking kicks is a constant threat, into the grateful arms of Adams and a sharp little burst of acceleration from the replacement scrum-half, Gareth Davies; give either of them a yard of space and the outcome is seldom in doubt.
The Lions now meet the Sharks on this same pitch on Wednesday.
Gatland, その間, said his medical team have gone “over and above” in terms of their duty of care towards Luke Cowan-Dickie who came off the bench less than a week after being knocked cold during last Saturday’s Premiership final.
The Exeter hooker played the last 11 minutes of this fixture, with Gatland making clear that “a world-leading consultant has given him the all-clear”.