British and Irish Lions- 74
If the opening match of the ’09 Lions tour against the Royal XV was uninspiring and left rugby fans across Britain and Ireland feeling uneasy and anxious then last night’s clash with the Golden Lions was quite the opposite. The tourists ran over for ten tries in a brutal demolition of the home side.The tone had been set as early as ten minutes in, twice the B&I Lions’ pack had forced the South Africans onto the back foot allowing the backs race through an abysmal defence with both centres getting early socres.
The pressure on the hosts was relentless as their pack continued to be pulverised by Jenkins, Heaslip and co. Enjoying good field position and quick ball it was only a matter of time before the backs cruised over for more scores. By half time Roberts had a brace to his name with O’ Driscoll, Monye and Croft also having dotted down.
In commentary Stuart Barnes refused to single out individuals due to the collective nature of the victory. It was this aspect that will please McGeechan most. The opening display was woefully lacking in cohesion and the Lions bore all the sings of a team who’d never played together. Last night the forwards hit the rucks in twos and threes while O’Driscoll linked seamlessly with Jones and Roberts behind the scrum. More importantly the foundations were solid; a dominant lineout and a scrum which got better and better over the 80 minutes.
The B&I Lions coaching staff may have been suffering after the Royal XV encounter but this morning they had a headache for all the right reasons, selections. Fundamental to a successful Lions tour is competition for places and constant pressure on the test fifteen. Last night several players stood up to the mark. Hynes and Wyn Jones looked a formidable partnership in the second row, the front three all made their presence felt in particular in the loose where Jenkins and Vickey were awesome.
Croft put in a performance which proved the absurdity of ever excluding him combining his renowned agility with some dogged work in the tight. There was no Heineken Cup hangover for Jamie Heaslip who was all over the pitch putting in a very impressive shift at number 8 while Wallace shook off his opening wobbler with a fine effort on openside.
With the forwards setting the perfect platform Philips distribution at 9 was suitably speedy sending his team mates over the gain-line again and again. The Osperey’s man also displayed his strength and adaptability by fitting in as centre late on. We may have seen the starting 10, 12 and 13 for the first test as Jones, Roberts and O’Driscoll combined to perfection. Soft handling and dummy runners dismantled the Golden Lions midfield opening gaps that the speedsters were very willing to fill.
Monye showed his speed and ability to finish taking both his tries well but was perhaps the only played overly eager to impress causing some unforced errors. Rob Kearney can be very proud of his first outing as a Lion the Leinster man was safe under the high ball, used his boot to good effect and even cut some lines reminiscent of his early international days.
Barnes may not have singled out individuals but I will. Tommy Bowe was central almost everthing the Lions did. For a player whose position on the Irish team was in question before this years six nations Bowe played like a natural Lion. Having impressed against the Royal XV the winger took a hugh step last night towards cementing a place on the starting test side. As well as showing speed and strength for his two tries Bowe illustrated a brilliant understanding of the play. His delicate offloading sent O’Driscoll over in the first half and put Monye in in the second. He took the initiative to step in as scrum half and provide Croft with clean ball for the flanker’s try. Such an composed efoort will not have gone unnoticed by his manager or his teamates.
If this weren’t already enough to please Geech, consider the performance of subs such as Murray and Forde who decimated the Golden Lion’s scrum, Andy Powell who was his usual energetic self, Hook who notched a try and three conversions and most notably Stephen Ferris who tackled for his life before charging 60 metres to score and cap a historic night in Johannesburg.