Sharks 31-71 British and Irish Lions
You just can’t help but wonder where this tour is heading and whether the chaos being created by Covid is actually doing untold damage to the entire concept of the British and Irish Lions.
A groundswell of observers have been lining up to ponder the sense of continuing with this trip and whether the Test series – the touchstone of the whole venture – will even take place and provide the required assistance, financial or otherwise, to rugby in South Africa.
The only certainty is that the situation is fluid with the possibility of more game reshuffling to come.
Before kick-off we had the almost obligatory alterations with Maro Itoje out (gastric bug) and Finn Russell succumbing to an Achilles issue.
Coach Warren Gatland admitted it had been the most chaotic few days he has experienced as a coach and added: “One of the things we’ve done right from the start of the tour is say that there will be some chaos. There has been chaos. It’s then about adapting to that and then changing. That’s been the mantra. I thought we handled it during the week. I see it as a positive.
“If there’s anything wrong with us, that doesn’t upset us. We’re able to make decisions quickly and move on. If anything else happens as chaotic as this week has been, that would surprise me.”
Despite the unflattering final scoreline, the Sharks were a far greater test the second time around and the score was tied at 26-26 until Jaden Hendrikse was shown a red card for elbowing Liam Williams early in the second half.
After a procession through South Africa so far, for 45 minutes this was the kind of workout the Lions needed.
“It’s what is going to come in the Tests in terms of the South African team who will look to come pretty hard, put us under pressure and see if they can catch us behind the gainline with some loose stuff,” Gatland said. “We just need to make sure that we are a bit more accurate, tidier and we did that a lot better in the second half.”
For a while, at least, this was finally a bit of a contest for the Lions with 11 tries coming their way – surpassing the eight they managed the first time against the Sharks – and though they, perhaps understandably, looked a bit off-colour there were sizeable contributions made by Dan Biggar, skipper on the night Jamie George, Tadhg Beirne – both George and Beirne scored twice – Duhan van der Merwe and Anthony Watson, the latter also crossing twice.
It all looked to be following the expected narrative from the outset after Chris Harris touched down in the fourth minute with Biggar converting but much of what followed was much more of a struggle.
Poor decision-making from the Lions allowed the Sharks, with former Ulster prop Wiehahn Herbst starting, to take the Lions on both in the physical stakes and through playing it fast and loose.
The South Africans scored four tries in the opening half and led on several occasions before Beirne’s first score, along with Biggar’s extras, tied things up at 26 points apiece at the break.
The Lions’ other touchdowns in a bizarre first half of scoring were from George and Van der Merwe.
The second 40 was all about Gatland’s side taking control and rediscovering some accuracy. At least that was the plan though this was greatly aided by the early red card shown to first-half try scorer Hendrikse.
Not surprisingly, the Lions took advantage and Jack Conan was driven over from a maul and though Biggar missed the tricky extras he nailed the two-pointer after Elliot Daly’s score.
Though the Sharks came back through Werner Kok’s charge down off newly-arrived tour skipper Conor Murray’s kick, the Lions roared back with George’s second and another via Watson with Biggar converting both.
Leading 52-31, the Lions had that control and Beirne cross for his second and Tom Curry his first and the tourists’ 10th of the evening.
The game closed out with Murray yellow-carded, though this wasn’t enough to prevent Watson running in.
So, another thumping win but who knows what happens next on this tour.