Following another Covid scare and the last-minute withdrawal of the Bulls, the Cell C Sharks took a second bite at the Lions in Saturday's hastily scheduled game. Following their 54-7 defeat at the hands of the Lions in their game the previous Wednesday some questioned the value of this match.
What new questions could the already vanquished Sharks ask of the rampant Lions team?
Well, this time around the Sharks bared their teeth and asked more questions than anyone was expecting. On some occasions, more questions than the Lions seemed to be able to answer. This time around the Sharks were more physical, innovative in their attacking play, snapping up opportunities across the park and dominating in phase play.
The Lions looked disjointed in open play. They didn’t seem to know how to deal with the physicality of the Sharks and were playing far too much “one-out” Rugby. Simply put the Lions trying too hard to make things happen. This may well be down to the fact that only two players from the previous fixture against the Sharks were in this Lions team. That said there were worrying signs here.
Lions mistakes were punished and the Sharks were leading 26-19 with only a few minutes to go until halftime. It took a last gasp try from Tadgh Bierne to drew the teams level at 26-26 when the halftime was blown.
The second half started in a similar vein, although the Lions looked better organised and were starting to play to their game plan, the Sharks kept pushing them and fighting hard.
Unfortunately, the Sharks took the physicality over the edge and in a moment of madness, their scrum-half elbowed a Lions player in the head after tackling him into touch. The resultant Red Card & sending off was a game-changer. The Sharks were reduced to 14 men and as the game moved beyond 60 minutes, their tank ran dry. The Lions pounced. It wasn’t all one-way traffic, at one point Sharks were 31-37 behind, but by the end, the Lions ran out 50 point winners.
The Lions conceded more tries in this game than South Africa did in the entire last World Cup! Warren Gatland, the Lions Head Coach, was rightly disappointed in the post-match interview and this game has probably given him more questions than answers.
On a positive note for the Lions, Eliot Daly at centre played well again and must now be in the starting line-up for the 1st test. Anthony Watson, on the Wing, showed glimpses of brilliance, as did Liam Williams, at full-back, but both were denied any real opportunity in the first 50 or so minutes. The front row trio of Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George & Rory Sutherland looked excellent and may well be the starting line-up for the tests, we will see.
Whilst we wish Finn Russel a swift recovery, it would have been difficult not to mention Marcus Smith’s call up to the Lions squad as cover at fly-half. He may yet have something to say about the no.10 berth in one of the test games!! There’s still a lot to ponder selection wise for the Lions and you must give them credit for being able to get sides out at the last minute, against the backdrop of Covid related issues. This article by Dan Biggar says it all: https://apple.news/AW4R_wsIwQEivX3_nrF6cGA
It now looks highly likely that all the remaining games will be played in Cape Town and that possibly the fixtures against the SA “A” on the 14th & the Stormers on the 17th will be switched around, added to this is the latest news that Siya Kolisi the South African Captain has tested positive.
Meantime the Lions will be licking their wounds after a fierce Shark attack.