OUR tries in the second half from Welsh winger Josh Adams helped the British and Irish Lions kick-off their tour with a convincing win over their South African namesakes in Johannesburg last night.
It was by no means a complete performance – you would not expect that at this stage – but there was plenty to like about how Warren Gatland’s men went about building more momentum following their convincing win over Japan in their only pre-tour game last weekend.
Next up is the Cell C Sharks – who will present a step up in standard – on Wednesday, with the start of the three-match Test series against the world champion Springboks looming on the horizon in three weeks’ time, on July 24.
It was a good day for the five Scots involved in this match, and particularly flanker Hamish Watson, who scored the second of his teams’ eight tries and was named man-of-the-match.
Meanwhile, scrum-half Ali Price also got on the score sheet and combined well with Finn Russell to move the ball at breakneck speed, particularly in the first half, as the Lions set out their stall.
Chris Harris impressed at outside centre as a threat with ball and water-tight – as we have come to expect – and watertight in defence, and Stuart Hogg led well from the back.
The tourists took the lead with just three minutes played when Harris prodded the ball over the last man for Louis Rees-Zammit to collect on the first bounce and cruise home for the opening try.
There was a scare on five minutes when Hogg rose authoritatively to collect a high ball but landed awkwardly and stayed down, bringing back memories of last week’s match against Japan when squad captain Alun Wyn Jones was injured out of the tour.
Thankfully, the Scottish full-back recovered to play an accomplished full 80 minutes. Hogg, of course, was invalided out of the last Lions tour in 2017 before the Test series began following a freak collision with team-mate Conor Murray, so it was a huge relief to see him get back to his feet on this occasion.
Watson claimed try number two after just six minutes when he demonstrated where his “Pinball” nickname comes from by bouncing two opponents on his way to the line following a period of ferocious driving play from the touring forwards.
But it was not all one-way traffic, and the hosts then had several minutes camped on their opponents’ line midway through the first half.
With several penalties conceded, the men in red shirts flirted with a yellow card, but they rode their luck and held out before stretching their lead on the half-hour with a simple but well executed set-move which began with an overthrown line-out to Owen Farrell, from which the Englishman immediately fed the looping Price through a yawning gap in midfield.
Sigma got seven points back when skipper Francke Horn escaped up the short side of a ruck near halfway and sent Burger Odendaal rampaging into the Lions 22.
Farrell got back to make the try-saving tackle, but a quick recycle allowed EW Viljoen to send out a long looping pass for Vincent Tshituka to dart home, and Jordan Hendrikse added the conversion.
That jolted the tourists back to life and they finished the half in the same determined mood as they started it, although they could not add to their tally.
Wyn Jones thought he had scored try No.4 on the stroke of half time when he took route one over the top of a close-range ruck, but the score was referred to the TMO, who identified that Courtney Lawes had committed a neck-roll during the build-up.
The tourists started the second half with a bang when Adams burst through midfield and in under the posts, but their opponents had not yet given up, and another powerful surge from Horn led to a Rabz Maxwane try. It looked like there may have been an obstruction which impeded Russell at the start of that move, but the TMO saw nothing untoward.
There was plenty of excitement at both ends of the park. Jamie George could not quite collect Adams’ excellent kick ahead with the line at his mercy, then Sbusiso Sangweni burst clear from inside his own 22 and looked certain to go the distance for the hosts as he crossed halfway, but it was a long way to go and he ran out of gas, which allowed Hogg to track down the big back-rower with just 10 yards to go, and that seemed to kill the home team’s spirit.
An inch-perfect cross-kick from Russell put Adam in for his second and his team’s fifth try, then a weaving run through midfield by Elliot Daly led to Gareth Davies nipping under the posts, and as the hosts ran out of steam, Adams was twice given the space he needed on the left touchline to claim his third and fourth tries of the match.