Anthony Watson sprints for the try line
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
The British and Irish Lions received their toughest test of the tour to South Africa but still emerged overwhelming 71-31 winners as the Sharks fell away once Jaden Hendrikse was shown a red card for elbowing.
It was the workout Warren Gatland’s team needed after opening their expedition with three routine victories, including in the first meeting with the Sharks at Emirates Airline Park on Wednesday that ended in a 54-7 rout.
The side from Natal, deputising for the Bulls who fell victim to an outbreak of coronavirus, were a different proposition three days later in the new surroundings of Loftus Versfeld.
They were ruthless at punishing the abundance of mistakes committed by the Lions, conjuring dazzling tries in the blink of an eye and were rewarded with a 26-26 half-time score.
But they were also exposed too easily and they suffered a grave setback in the 45th minute when scrum-half Hendrikse was dismissed for a brainless elbow on Liam Williams as the Wales full-back lay on the floor.
The score was still tied when Hendrikse departed and inevitably the pendulum swung dramatically in the Lions’ favour, who piled on the points against opposition full of endeavour but organisationally poor.
15. Liam Williams – 7
With so much looseness in front of him, he acted as the Lions’ comfort blanket as a rock under the high ball and virtually blemish free in his distribution.
14. Anthony Watson – 8
Sensational. After a quiet start, he exploded into the game, scoring two tries and creating one. His footwork is almost on a par with Cheslin Kolbe.
13. Elliot Daly – 7
No doubting his appetite for work. Not flawless but so much seems to happen around him. His outside break is a thing of beauty; his senseless spill in the first half far less so.
12. Chris Harris – 7
Few people would have had him as a Test contender before the tour but he is growing in stature all the time. The defensive captain will be annoyed at a couple of missed tackles.
11. Duhan van der Merwe – 6
Two tries, beat 13 defenders but his handling was suspect after spilling three balls, one of which led directly to a try. One drop is forgivable, three far less so.
10. Dan Biggar – 7
Who knew Biggar had a touch of Fijian ancestry to produce that one-handed shovel pass? A couple of missed conversions may count against him.
9. Gareth Davies – 5
Threw one ugly intercept and struggled to provide the rhythm to an attack that Ali Price has managed in the previous two matches.
1. Rory Sutherland – 6
Another Scot who is making the most of every opportunity coming his way. Gained confidence from an early scrum penalty and rattled some bones with his carrying.
2. Jamie George – 7
Relished the responsibility of captaincy, getting his hands on the ball as much as possible. Two tries and the lineout remains exemplary.
3. Tadhg Furlong – 7
The Lions scrum was not as dominant as forwards coach Robin McBryde would have wished but Furlong at least assured it went forward. Warming up well for the Test series.
4. Courtney Lawes – 6
His footwork has improved so much and he always seems to slip out of the first tackle. Perhaps did not stamp his mark in defence.
5. Jonny Hill – 5
Seems to be fading from the Test equation, missing three of his four tackles. Pretty far behind Maro Itoje and Iain Henderson at this point.
6. Tadhg Beirne – 8
Made a mockery of the altitude by covering every blade of the highveld grass. His blue scrum cap was everywhere. Nearing undroppable status.
7. Hamish Watson – 6
By far his quietest performance of the tour. Bar one brave carry out of traffic, this was more of a slow burn than an explosion of fireworks.
8. Jack Conan – 7
Got through a mountain of work and was the team’s leading carrier and tackler while he was on the field. Probably the leading candidate for the Test shirt.