Tourists beat Sigma Lions 56-14 in their opening game in South Africa


Josh Adams scores four tries for the Lions

After all the uncertainty, the British & Irish Lions 2021 tour is up and running in South Africa – and they got things off to a convincing start at Emirates Airline Park.

Josh Adams scored four tries in the 56-14 win over Sigma Lions in Johannesburg while Louis Rees-Zammit, Hamish Watson, Ali Price and Gareth Davies also crossed.

Just as against Japan in Edinburgh last weekend, it wasn’t a perfect performance from the tourists.

There are still plenty of kinks to be ironed out as the squad continues to gel and they leaked a couple of tries.

However, they made it two wins from two, momentum is building and there were plenty of positives. Here are a few learnings from the win over Johannesburg’s Sigma Lions…

Josh Adams early favourite for a Lions wing berth in Test series

Four tries in a match is always impressive, but it’s Josh Adams’s consistency that puts him firmly in the frame for the Test series against South Africa. He’s a finisher – and that’s what the Lions need if they are to beat the world champions.

The Wales winger was top try-scorer at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, scored in all three of his Six Nations matches this year and crossed on his Lions debut against Japan. Then he added another four here.

On top of the try record, he also has the ability to play on either wing – he wore 14 against Japan, 11 against the Sigma Lions – and his aerial skills are en pointe.

That’s whether dealing with high balls, and there will no doubt be a barrage of them from the Boks, or picking cross-field kicks out of the sky to create scoring opportunities.

The importance of combinations

Combinations are key on Lions tours and that was evident early on against Sigma Lions. The Ali Price-Finn Russell connection at half-back was slick, but so was the Gloucester link further out.

Scotland centre Chris Harris received the ball out wide and chipped ahead for his Gloucester team-mate Louis Rees-Zammit, who marked his Lions debut with a try within four minutes.

That familiarity, whether at club or country level, means players are aware of each other’s traits, can recognise what a body move can signify or know where a team-mate is likely to pop up.

In contrast, with so many players unfamiliar with each other in the Lions line-up it was little wonder that not everything clicked. Jonny Hill delivered a pass to no one in the first half, the rolling maul wasn’t quite sharp enough…

But that’s what these warm-up matches are for, to develop combinations and iron out those sort of unforced errors.

Slick set plays

What did look sharp were some of the set plays that the Lions will have been able to work on during training.

Take the Josh Adams try early in the second half. From a lineout, Ali Price flicks the ball inside to Adams on a sharp line and he burst through the gap to score. The tourists had clearly spotted a weakness in their hosts’ defence at that area.

Price himself was the beneficiary in the 33rd minute. The Lions went long at the lineout to Owen Farrell, whose quick swivel to pass to Price confused the Sigma Lions defence and allowed the scrum-half to coast in under the posts.

Those long lineouts are clearly a tactic of the Lions, but it is about risk-reward. Sbusiso Sangweni got to the ball before Farrell in the second half and sprinted into open space. He would have scored a try but for Stuart Hogg’s tackle.

Owen Farrell is not a crash-ball centre

There were a couple of occasions in the first half when the Lions tried to use Owen Farrell to bust the defensive line from close range – but they would have been better off using Chris Harris in that role.

Farrell may enjoy the physical side of the game but he’s better off as a second distributor or putting his kicking game to good use. It just didn’t work.

Lions are blessed with ball-carriers up front

Physicality is always something that dominates talk when it comes to playing South Africa and the Lions certainly have that. But they also have something of a point of difference when you look at the ball skills of their forwards.

This match was full of examples of forwards carrying hard and showing good hands to offload to team-mates as well as footwork to get around opponents. Courtney Lawes, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Hamish Watson… They all made impressive ground against Sigma Lions – with the Scotland flanker who was Player of the Match also getting on the score sheet.

That ability to gain yards with ball in hand and then link with team-mates is sure to come into play in the Test series.

What does need work a little work is the set-piece – the scrum didn’t dominate and the maul didn’t get into gear. The Lions coaches will be hoping that is just because combinations are still bedding in.

The Lions play the Sharks at the same venue on Wednesday, with the match live on Sky Sports.

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