The British & Irish Lions put a Covid-impacted day behind them by punishing a poor Sharks performance with a 54-7 victory in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
Covid-19 impact: The Lions were forced into a total of eight late changes to their match-day 23 due to their camp becoming impacted by coronavirus, which nearly caused the game to be called off.
The changes included a new halfback pair in Owen Farrell and Ali Price, Josh Adams starting at fullback and Louis Rees-Zammit coming in on the right wing. Lions coach Warren Gatland was also forced to field a seven-one split between forward and backs on the bench, with Finn Russell as the only backline replacement.
Gameflow: If the Lions were supposed to have had their rhythm impacted the the day’s events, one would not have guessed it as it took them just three minutes to open the scoring through Josh Adams’ fifth try of the tour and they never looked back.
The tourists played with an incredible tempo that the Sharks couldn’t live with and dominated the gainline, not allowing the Sharks pack any space to breathe.
The Sharks simply didn’t help themselves as whenever they did get into promising positions, they made basic errors and tried to offload when it wasn’t on. It also did not help that the Sharks were poor defensively and fell off tackles, allowing the Lions far too much space on the outside.
This is where Duhan van der Merwe capitalised as the South African-born wing scored a first-half brace, before Bundee Aki burst over to make it 26-0 at half time.
The Sharks finally got some joy in the second half as they attacked the Lions’ defensive weakness out wide, with James Venter finishing off an excellent try.
However, any hope of a comeback was snuffed out as a poor error from Thaakir Abrahams allowed Adams to score his brace, before Louis Rees-Zammit capitalised on another error to extend the Lions’ lead.
There was still time for Van der Merwe to complete his hat-trick, before Adams did the same minutes later.
Players who shone: Owen Farrell was not named in the original match-day 23, but had to come into the starting lineup at flyhalf at the 11th hour. Despite this, he had a sublime match and pulled the strings excellently for the Lions. The Sharks simply could not deal with the Englishman as he seemed to find space every time he put boot to ball.
Despite starting in the unfamiliar position of fullback, Josh Adams grabbed a hat-trick to take his overall tally to seven tries after just two games. Duhan van der Merwe also bagged a hat-trick, but was caught out on defence for the Sharks’ only try of the match.
For the Sharks, Werner Kok had comfortably his best match in a black jersey. He looked like the only Sharks player with any sort of intensity in the first half and carried that through into the second, playing a big role in their try. Kok tackled everything that came into his path, but was unlucky to get yellow-carded in the first half.
Sharks (for B&I Lions) – 15 Manie Libbok, 14 Werner Kok, 13 Jeremy Ward, 12 Marius Louw, 11 Thaakir Abrahams, 10 Curwin Bosch, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi (c), 7 Thembelani Bholi, 6 James Venter, 5 Hyron Andrews, 4 Ruben van Heerden, 3 Khutha Mchunu, 2 Fez Mbatha, 1 Khwezi Mona.
Subs: 16 Kerron van Vuuren, 17 Ntuthuko Mchunu, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 JJ van der Mescht, 20 Reniel Hugo, 21 Dylan Richardson, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Anthony Volmink.
British & Irish Lions – 15 Josh Adams, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Sam Simmonds, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Josh Navidi, 5 Ian Henderson (c), 4 Adam Beard, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Tadhg Furlong, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Jack Conan, 21 Finn Russell, 22 Hamish Watson, 23 Taulupe Faletau.