Sunday, July 04, 2021

Lions (RSA)-14 Lions (B&I)-56


Of course I had to go and do the nerdy research to look up and confirm that "Sigma" is actually the 18th letter of the Greek alphabet.

That makes it fitting that they were so far behind this touring pride of Lions on the day in every respect and to be honest nobody was really surprised by the result.

However while those of us looking on might be forgiven for being a bit distracted for this tour opener, I do need to start my writeup by questioning both the organisers and the main broadcasters over just how seriously they took the occasion.

We all know South African rugby allows the actual naming rights of their clubs to be sold; this has happened for years. In general I try to avoid using the corporate moniker but for this particular match it came in handy to help distinguish between the two feline foes.

But here's the thing, this club from Gauteng province actually switched it's sponsor one week before the match, going from "Emirates" to "Sigma". I wouldn't expect you to have known that, and despite my persistent pedantry I might have actually forgiven myself for not knowing that.

When it comes to the official Lions website and Sky Sports however? Maybe not so much. Especially when this is a tour that many are finding hard to motivate themselves for, what with the lack of travelling fans and prospect of COVID cancellation forever looming in the background.

Yet here we had Sky presenters using "Emirates" several times in the build up. And even when they acknowledged the switch, I swear I heard someone say "the Simba Lions" more than once. Whether it was a slip of the tongue or genuine attempt at Disney themed pun-ditry, it doesn't exactly suggest they're taking this event very seriously, does it.

Then we had the match commentator's claim during the warmup that Iain Henderson was the only Irishman in the Lions' matchday 23. That also had two possible interpretations; one a bad mistake, the other serious shade being thrown on Bundee Aki's status as a project player.

Finally as I write this on Sunday morning after the match took place at Emirates Airline Park (don't worry I checked to make sure it's still called that) I got this screengrab from the official Lions tour page and they also neglected to acknowledge the Sigma branding.
Simple question - how are we expected to take it seriously if those charged with presenting the tour to us don't seem to be bothering???

Just to be clear - as long as the tour goes on I'll keep harping on the matches here, but I couldn't start things off without mentioning my surprise at the lack of accuracy. Normally I'm finicky when a commentator pronounces a name wrong so as you can imagine these muliple SNAFUs really grind my gears.

Right - finally to the actual action. I've put my main focus on the match at the Aviva this weekend so this will be one of those writeups where I just scribble as I rewatch. For the record I'll be using "SL" & "BIL" to distinguish.


Finn Russell wasted no time in trying to get involved - having received the kickoff BIL quickly moved up the pitch and with the first sniff of front foot ball the Scots 10 went for a kick pass to Louis Rhys Zammit on the far wing only for it to go out on the full.

It wasn't long before the young Welshman was dotting down anyway...having thwarted our hosts with some stubborn D at midfield, Ali Price did an interesting "show a box kick and go" to set up his backline who eventually created the space out side for Harris to get clean through and chip ahead putting his winger through for the opening score. 0-7

The superiority continued on the next possession as Hamish Watson, clearly determined to make up for missing the Murrayfield clash against Japan, powered into the 22 off an attacking lineout before barrelling under the posts to complete the move. At this early stage it looked like the All Blacks' literal cricket score against Tonga was going to get some competition. 0-14


SIL outhalf Jordan Hendrikse quickly realised that a territory approach would work better for his side, and maybe I've my tongue in cheek a bit but this spell was something of a "purple patch" for them.

A series of penalties had them camped in the BIL 22 for a while and they showed great faith in their front row (which included the wonderfully-named former Scots Under 20 prop Nathan McBeth) by opting for a scrum.


After a few resets they probed the tourist's defence some more tempting another penalty and this time a warning to skipper Stuart Hogg as well. But after choosing the tap n go this time and battering the red wall further, Owen Farrell eventually got a chance to clear as Hamish Watson's determination earned a penalty. Possession went back and forth for the rest of the 10-minute period, I wonder if the less "die-hard" BIL fans watching were starting to be tempted to switch over to the Euros.


Eventually an attacking lineout in the 22 saw Jamie George fire a long dart to Owen Farrell who offloaded "wraparaound" style to his scrum half Ali Price who was able to sail under the posts as the home defenders looked on in bewilderment. 0-21

But there was soon to be joy for the home side as McBeth spotted a rare gap up the touchline and exploited it very well putting through his centre Burger Odendaal who got into the 22 and with his team mates providing good support, eventually flanker Vincent Tshituka was able to power over. 7-21

The toursists persisted with that long lineout but it was a more conventional one just before the air-raid siren of a half time hooter went off that led to Wyn Jones diving over a ruck at the line for what looked like a fourth try but it was called back for a TMO check which spotted a neck roll by Courtney Lawes which kept the score as it was going into the break.



What was interesting about rewatching that first half was that although Josh Adams got four tries, I forgot he had yet to get one by the break. But it didn't take him long to open his account.

Shortly after the South African commentators had finished gushing over the distance on Hendrikson's exit clearance following the restart, Jamie George nailed another perfect lineout dart and the subsequent move including an inside pass from Ali Price allowed Adams a clear path up the middle and under the posts as the clock ticked to 41 minutes. 7-28

It wasn't long after the restart that SL struck back - Chris Harris might have been a bit too ambitious with a pass throwing it straight to an opponent and eight phases later skipper Francke Horn broke free through a gap with pacy winger Maxwane inside him to finish. 14-28

Jamie George almost got himself a score after Adams grubbered one through into his path but the Saracens hooker got beaten by the bounce of the ball at the last second. Not long afterwards, home flanker Sbusiso Sangweni thought he was clean through after taking a long lineout dart in his stride but he was chased and hauled down in super fashion by Stuart Hogg in the 22.


The toursists continued to find success of perfectly worked lineouts and after putting a penalty to the corner,Itoje and Watson punched some holed up the middle before Russell spotted Adams in an acre of space on the left wing so, naturally, put a pinpoint pass into the Welshman's path. 14-35

A scrappy phase of play came next as the benches started to be factored into both sides. Hamish Watson showed promise with a break up the middle only for it to be swatted out of his hands at the 22 he was annoyed with himself but still went on to be named deserved Player of the Match.


TMO had a look at a Sam Simmonds clean out in the SL 22 - they penalised for lifting above the horizontal but he was lucky to get away with it just being a penalty because I thought his entry point was also out of whack.

The home side to their credit was trying to make things happen but the pressure from the tourists defence, led mostly by Itoje who was in PotM contention himself, proved too great and they were never going to score again.

After a knock on forced a scrum, Elliot Daly broke into the 22 way too easily before slipping a flattish pass inside to Gareth Davies who provided the finish under the posts. 14-42

Not long after the restart, both Jamie George and Jonny Hill went to pounce on a loose ball at the back of a SIL ruck and since Adams was available with green grass ahead of him, there was only going to be one result. 14-49


An offside penalty at midfield put BIL back in the 22 and with George and Itoje gone off, another English duo of Cowan-Dickie and Lawes combined at the lineout and a sweeping move through the backs saw Daly find Adams in more space allowing him to get his fourth. A word on Farrell's kicking starts - 8/8 might look impressive but most of them were under the posts and none were near the touchline. 14-56

The match kind of fizzled out from here, with both Currie Cup and the rest of the tour creeping into the players' minds. Henderson and Aki got on the pitch beofre the end but didn't get much a chance to make an impact.


Like I said in my post match tweet, despite the relatively easy outing there was a lot to admire in Gatland's side. Defensive structure was sound, the lineouts were nigh on perfect, we got great production out of the wingers, and there was some interesting combinations being used among the backs, not least the wraparound given Mr Sexton wasn't around.

At number 8 I thought Toby Faletau was very quiet and with Simmonds likely to start during the week, I really hope Jack Conan's impressive display last week against much better opposition isn't forgotten and he is given a chance to keep his name in the pot.

I have to admit I enjoyed rewatching this a lot more than I thought I would, but there will certainly be much tougher contests to come before the test series gets under way. Next up, the Sharks in the same stadium on Wednesday. Wait, sorry, I mean the "Cell C" Sharks, unless of course that changes in the mean time. JLP

Note - Ireland v Japan writeup will post Monday.



Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019