The Lions ran out 54-7 winners over Cell C Sharks in their Wednesday night midweek clash. It was yet another emphatic win for them on this troubled South Africa tour. Once again they got off to a fantastic start.
This group of players have been together for three weeks and they are beginning to gell. Despite the recent disruptions to the starting line-up, the Lions looked much more in-tune with each other and produced some great Rugby. They had scored two tries within six minutes of the kick-off, however, as with the first game they then had to defend for long periods, went offside too often and on occasion failed to dominate possession. Against a full-strength South African test side, they'll need to lift their level of performance and find ways to control where on the pitch the opposition are playing their Rugby. There’s a way to go yet, but the signs are there that this group of players representing the Lions could pose a real threat if the Tests go ahead, more of that later.
Once again it was out wide that the Lions profited. Josh Adams, at full-back, showed what a fantastic finisher he is. He is the only Lions player to have started all three of the games and has now scored eight tries so far, a record in itself. He has for my money put his name on the team sheet for the tests.
Adams is not alone in delivering outstanding performances so far on the tour. Louis Rees- Zammit, on the wing, yet again showed just how much pace he has, (he went off in the final few minutes and we hope he's not injured. Duhan Van De Merwe on the other wing also scored a hat trick and was named the “Player of the Match”. Warren Gatland, the Coach, has yet to play the other tour members who can play on the wing but despite this, I expect this test spot will remain highly contested throughout the tour.
Other Lions players that shone during this match were Luke Cowan-Dickie, whose tackle and work rate was fantastic; Iain Henderson at lock led the team well and was a rock in defence. Owen Farrell showed great vision and leadership controlling the Lions game for the Lions from his fly-half position. Although he was called in late to join the squad, Josh Navidi in the back row, showed exactly why some say he should have been selected from the outset. He made 16 tackles in the game – more than any other Lions player. Sam Simmonds also showed glimpses of what he can do at No.8. He made more carries (six) and more metres (30) than any other Lions forward in the first half!
Assuming it goes ahead, it will be very interesting to see who Gatland selects for the first test on July 24th.
It would be impossible not to talk about this tour and what's happening, without discussing Covid and the threat that it poses to both players and fans. The Lions had to make major last-minute changes to the team that played the Sharks as a member of their management tested positive. As a result, eight players and four staff members had to isolate and remain at the team hotel.
South Africa have cancelled their second warm game this Friday against Georgia, due to Covid issues and springbok players, Marvin Orie, Frans Steyn, Handre Pollard & Frans Malherbe, as well as their Head Coach Jacques Nienaber, have all tested positive. The Bulls game against the Lions this Saturday was cancelled and they played the Sharks again (More about this in the next match report).
Covid is rampant throughout South Africa and there will likely be more outbreaks involving the teams before this tour is over despite the best efforts of all involved. Let’s hope that Covid does not take over the conversation and that this Tour can continue and more importantly that both the Lions and South Africa will be able to select full strength sides when the Tests start.
There will inevitably be a lot of debate amongst followers about whether this Tour should have been delayed or even held in another Country. One wonders if the money/commercial TV rights rewards etc have driven decisions that in hindsight will prove incorrect, but in the meantime, the Roar Grows.