Well, that was a pretty emphatic start and win for the British & Irish Lions in the first game of their eight-match tour in South Africa against the Sigma Lions. They got off to a roaring start (pardon the pun) with an early try from Louis Rees-Zammit (wing) and I’m certain we will see him continue to show the opposition a clean pair of heels as the series goes on.
It took him just three minutes to make his mark as he latched on to a dink over the top from his Gloucester Rugby teammate Chris Harris (centre), another man on debut and burned away for the try. Hamish Watson (flanker) then scored again in the first ten minutes and things looked ominous for the Sigma Lions side.
However, this initial fast start was then followed by a long period of defensive duties. The Lions were sorely tested during this period and will need to look at this as well as other aspects of their play if they are going to threaten the South African test side.
As is often the case at the beginning of a tour like this, there were some areas where players didn’t gel. They will improve in all areas as they spend more time together. They already look like a very strong side and the fact that a number of the team play regularly together in premiership Rugby sides is clearly having a positive impact.
I’m a great advocate of playing what you see and loved some of the clever play from Finn Russell at fly-half. That said some of his play was high risk and with all due respect to their opposition on the day, a higher quality side might have made more interceptions, defended this better and made the result look a lot different. Chris Harris at centre was excellent throughout his time on the field and will no doubt have made a mark for that spot on the test side. He was replaced by Eliot Daly who made a tired opposition look very ordinary, bringing pace, skill, and great execution to the last twenty or so minutes.
Hamish Watson was rightly awarded the “player of the match”, he is a whirling dervish of a player and seemed to be everywhere he was needed. Some consider him too small but his tackle count (15) and his explosive power makes him a real threat to any opposition, one to watch definitely.
Josh Adams scored four tries and was very impressive, it’s now five tries in just two games as a Lion for Adams after a series of impressive finishes from the Welsh wing wizard and he was deservedly voted the Fans’ Man of the Match. He opened his tally against Japan a week ago and was prolific in the second half in Johannesburg to become the first man to score four tries in a game for the Lions since Shane Williams in 2005!! Now that’s a marker thrown down.
Jonny Hill and Maro Itoje both at second row were also excellent in tight & set play.
Warren Gatland the head coach has said he’ll play all players in the first three games so we can expect a totally different side for the next fixture on Wednesday against the Cell C Sharks. Just as in the previous game there will be players on show that night who will want to stake their claim for a test start. I expect another very strong performance and the debate to start in earnest as to who might make those spots.
Gatland has said they are focusing on three key things in each game – I wonder is it simply win, win, win!!