The British & Irish Lions warm up for their South African tour with a four-try win over Japan marred by injury to captain Alun Wyn Jones.
|British & Irish Lions (21) 28|
|Tries: Adams, Van der Merwe, Henshaw, Beirne Cons: Biggar 4|
|Japan (0) 10|
|Tries: Himeno Cons: Tamura Pens: Tamura|
The Welsh lock went off injured after seven minutes at Murrayfield with a dislocated shoulder.
Josh Adams, Duhan van der Merwe and Robbie Henshaw all touched down within the opening 23 minutes.
Tadhg Beirne added another try before Kazuki Himeno replied for Japan.
Warren Gatland’s squad now head for South Africa, where they will begin their tour against Emirates Lions at Ellis Park, Johannesburg, next Saturday.
But, before then, they will have to choose a replacement for Jones and a new captain. Further news will also be needed about fellow Welsh forward Justin Tipuric, who was also withdrawn through injury early in Edinburgh.
The Lions had to gather themselves after that early kick to the solar plexus, the incident that saw Murrayfield’s mood shift from giddy exuberance to stony-faced concern for Jones.
He has taken a humongous amount of hits in his vast career and bounced back from nearly all of them. This time – of all times – Jones struggled.
The injury came at a ruck and an innocuous-looking entry by Japan’s James Moore. The Lions skipper stayed on his hands and knees and you knew in an instant that something was wrong – and the devastating news for the 35-year-old confirmed afterwards.
Courtney Lawes replaced him in the game and the Lions kicked on. Japan had nine of the team that made it to the quarter-final of the World Cup in 2019, but the heroes of that unforgettable autumn haven’t played a single Test together since then.
They attempted to bring their offloading brilliance to Scotland, but, unsurprisingly, they could hardly find the dynamism for which they’re famed. They had a flurry late on, but the game was long gone by that point.
Adams struck after 13 minutes when Bundee Aki did the grunt, assisted by the outstanding Henshaw, bringing his Ireland form to the red jersey. Off a quick recycle, Conor Murray sent Adams away for a try on his Lions debut.
Dan Biggar banged over the conversion from the touchline. The fly-half played and kicked like a dream all day.
The Lions hit out again five minutes later once Henshaw had halted a Japan attack with an intercept. Biggar floated a pass to Adams, who was brought down near the right touchline. Quite how Japan missed Van der Merwe tip-toeing his way on to the back of the ruck is anybody’s guess. He’s about as inconspicuous as the Walter Scott Monument on Princes Street, but the big wing picked up and disappeared down the blindside to score.
Biggar added the conversion and the Lions led 14-0. The score was followed by another blow, Tipuric having to leave the field injured and replaced by Taulupe Faletau.
Within a minute, the Lions had scored again, Henshaw storming on to a pass from Murray to dart under the posts from close range. Another dead-eye conversion from the flawless Biggar stretched it out to 21-0.
Japan were toiling, even more so when they butchered a chance late in the half. They looked like what they were – a side struggling to find rhythm after being apart for so long.
Yet another crisis had befallen the Lions by that point, or at least, a crisis for the 16,500 beer-swillers in their ranks. The bars shut.
“Extreme circumstances,” said the man on the PA system to a cacophony of boos and questions about what, exactly, constitutes extreme circumstances? Had they run out of beer? Had the organisers underestimated the thirst of the supporters? Did they know anything at all about the social side of the Lions phenomenon?
The fans dug deep and resorted to water. The Lions dug deep too.
A Lawes score was ruled out, but soon after Beirne made like an outside centre, with all the pace to match. The back-row hit a lovely line off a terrific pass from Biggar and galloped away to score under the posts. Another conversion made it 28-0.
The Lions hardly raised a gallop after that. Himeno’s blast and Yu Tamura’s conversion got Japan on the board, but the momentum had gone out of the game.
It became as flat as the beer might have been had it been available. Tamura put over a penalty with 11 minutes left and you wondered what was the point? Why go for the posts when you’re 21 points down so late in the game?
We meandered towards full-time, the remaining Lions seemingly safe and well, the scoreboard unchallenged and the atmosphere long since reduced to mere chattering. Japan had a few lively attacks, but nothing came of them.
The Lions got what they wanted – a hit-out and a win and tries from debutants. They also got something they didn’t want – an injury to a key man.
British and Irish Lions: Williams; Adams, Henshaw, Aki, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Murray; Sutherland, Owens, Furlong, Henderson, AW Jones (capt), Beirne, Tipuric, Conan
Replacements: George, W Jones, Sinckler, Lawes, Faletau, Price, Farrell, A Watson.
Japan: Yamanaka; Matsushima, Lafaele, Nakamura, Fifita; Tamura, Shigeno; Inagaki, Sakate, Koo, Van der Walt, Moore, Leitch (capt), Labuschagne, Mafi.
Replacements: Horikoshi, Millar, Ai Valu, Cornelson, Himeno, Tatafu, Saito, Matsuda.