The British & Irish Lions kicked off their 2021 tour of South Africa on a winning note as they beat their name sake 56 - 14 in a fast paced encounter on the Highveld. The Lions team was vastly different from that which played a week earlier in Japan whilst the Emirates Lions fielded a young side whose eagerness was evident but ultimately a lack of experience and game breakers saw them come off second best. When the sides met in 2009 the score was 70 - 10 in favor of the tourists.
The 10-12 combination of Finn Russell and Owen Farrell was always going to be under the spotlight as it had huge potential to form a severe attacking threat. They linked nicely in the first half but really came into their own in the second 40 as Hogg entered the line more regularly too.
The score was 21 - 14 at half time, showing a tighter encounter than many had anticipated. The Lions struggled with the B & I's aerial game as a number of kicks were poorly received. However a strong period of play from their forwards saw them cross the line for a try to claw back a bit on the score board. The B & I's defense however was solid as they only missed a single tackle the entire half.
In a first start for Maro Itoje, the big man got through a heavy workload and bossed the lineout which would have pleased Gatland greatly after the loss of Alun Wyn Jones. Itoje is most likely already penciled in as a starter for the test series and his performance today proved his value yet again. Courtney Lawes is another player who had a massive showing for the second week in a row and is truly paying due to Gatland's selection of him despite injury concerns.
Hamish Watson dotted down for a try and the busy forward proved to be a handful showing his value on both attack and defense as he was a menace in the breakdowns. Rees-Zammit and Ali Price joined him on the score sheet in the first half, with Rees-Zammit showing why he is the 3rd fastest rugby player at the moment.
In the second half the B & I's came out firing and were determined not to succumb to the difficulties awaiting them at altitude. Josh Adams crossed in the 41st minute to add to his try from last weekend. The Lions replied quickly through a try from winger Maxwane and the score remained 28 -14 until Josh Adams took an easy cross kick from Russel.
The second half showed the B & I's are well conditioned as the altitude never slowed them down. The bench injected some energy onto the field and Mako Vunipola put in a strong scrumming performance when he came on. Josh Adams also completed his hattrick in the 67th minute with a 4th three minutes later, and it was essentially one way traffic after that. Owen Farrell was also perfect off the kicking T as he slotted 8/8.
The Lions pack as a whole struggled to generate momentum through their driving mall and scrums and will need to focus heavily on these aspects of their game before facing the Springboks. They have definitely revealed their willingness to spread the pull and desire to play an expansive game as their wingers keep being rewarded out wide.
The British & Irish Lions will now turn their attention to the Cell C Sharks who wait for their arrival on Wednesday. The team will feature at least 10 changes as Gatland looks to give everyone a start in the first three games.
British & Irish Lions:
Tries: Rees-Zammit, Watson, Price, Adams (4), Davies
Conversions: Farrell (8)
Tries: Tshituka, Maxwane
Conversions: Hendrikse (2)