Josh Adams scores four tries as the British and Irish Lions see off the Sigma Lions in impressive style in their tour opener in Johannesburg.
|Sigma Lions (7) 14|
|Tries Tshituka, Maxwane Con: Hendrikse 2|
|British and Irish Lions (21) 56|
|Tries: Rees-Zammit, H Watson, Price, Adams 4, Davies Cons: Farrell 8|
Wales wing Louis Rees-Zammit scored a fourth-minute debut try, with Ali Price and Hamish Watson following him over.
Adams ran in four well-taken tries after the break to take the contest out of sight, with replacement Gareth Davies also crossing.
The hosts lost heart and couldn’t make the altitude count in their favour.
Four years ago, the Lions opened their tour with a stuttering 13-7 win over a thrown-together New Zealand Barbarians side that bolstered All Black confidence rather than the tourists’.
In a match played behind closed doors, this was a far more convincing victory as club and country combinations brought cohesion to a near-scratch side.
Chris Harris’ chip set up Gloucester team-mate Rees-Zammit for the opening try, Price gave Scotland team-mate Finn Russell the security to express himself at 10, while Jamie George and Maro Itoje’s England and Saracens connection tied up line-out ball.
There were, however, also signs of the tourists coming together as a team with Price’s try and Adams’ first score coming from the back of the line-out and the pages of attack coach Gregor Townsend’s playbook.
Defence coach Steve Tandy will also have been pleased by a 10-minute period in the first half where the home side managed to apply sustained pressure inside the 22m but were repelled by committed and coordinated resistance.
Captain Stuart Hogg, left out of the starting line-up for Exeter’s Premiership play-off campaign, looked sharp. The full-back claimed the high balls, posed a threat with ball in hand and superbly chased down Sbusiso Sangweni to deny an interception try.
Watson dampened down any doubts over his ability to compete physically against South African physicality with a typically all-action display in the back row, while Elliot Daly looked dangerous running at a tiring defence off the bench. And, unlike against Japan last weekend, there were no new injuries to the squad.
However, the opposition will get tougher. The Sigma Lions, who lost four out of five matches in the recent Rainbow Cup, look to be the weakest team on the Lions itinerary.
The Sharks, who the tourists meet on Wednesday, will be a step up in quality.
Russell predictably unpredictable at 10
Russell making his first start for the British and Irish Lions and with space, time and abundance of front-foot ball, took the chance to make his Test claim.
The Scotland fly-half showed his intent in the opening minute, chipping across field in search of the pace of Rees-Zammit.
That kick failed to hit its target, but, Russell was never deterred. His speed of thought and hand was key to springing Harris, who chipped ahead for Rees-Zammit’s fourth-minute opener and he set up Adams’ second with a deft dink over a blitz defence.
Russell’s combination with England captain Owen Farrell was not always smooth, but it asked questions of the hosts’ defence that other combinations can’t.
At points Russell slipped into second receiver outside Farrell to get closer to the edge of the defence and the pace out wide.
After a man-of-the-match display full of poise and control from Dan Biggar in last weekend’s win over Japan, Russell’s performance underlined the different options at 10. Which Warren Gatland will choose is no clearer.
Adams racks up scores to make point
Adams stretched over for a score against Japan at Murrayfield last weekend and took his four tries in similarly clinical fashion.
It was in the same stadium in 1997 that John Bentley scored a superb 60m try to throw himself into Test contention. None of Adams’ scores were of that quality, but through sheer quantity he made his point.
The wing is up against some stiff opposition for a starting Test spot, with 2017 starter Anthony Watson also in the squad, but his streak and the extra experience he has over Rees-Zammit and Duhan van der Merwe have surely put him in pole position.
Man of the match – Hamish Watson
BBC rugby union correspondent Chris Jones: Plenty of impressive performances across the board for the Lions – Elliot Daly looked especially sharp when he came on – and although the Finn Russell and Owen Farrell partnership in midfield didn’t quite click, Warren Gatland will reflect on a very decent first outing on South African soil.
And after starring at the Rugby World Cup, Josh Adams continues to prove he is a phenomenal try-scorer on the big stage.
British and Irish Lions: Hogg; Rees-Zammit, Harris, Farrell, Adams; Russell, Price; W Jones, George, Sinckler, Itoje, Hill, Lawes, H Watson, Faletau.
Replacements: Cowan-Dickie, Vunipola, Fagerson, Henderson, Simmonds, Davies, Aki, Daly.
Sigma Lions: Viljoen; Ulengo, Rass, Odendaal, Maxwane; Hendrikse, Smit; McBeth, Botha, Dreyer, Schoeman, Nothnagel, Sangweni, V Tshituka, Horn (capt).
Replacements: Visagie, Sithole, Sadie, Straeuli, E Tshituka, Van den Berg, Zeilinga, Kriel.