Lee Byrne believes he has placed down a marker for the other Lions fullback contenders to match.
Byrne’s performance was one of the few highlights in a scratchy Lions win. The Wales No 15 realised there’s a while to go before the first Test on 20 June, but on a short tour it was the best way to send a message.
‘It was good to get out there in the first match of the tour,’ Byrne told keo.co.za. ‘With such stiff competition, you have to set the standard for the player taking your place next week.
‘I know Rob [Kearney] is a great fullback and I’m sure he’ll follow me. That will drive both of us onto better performances.’
Injured for five weeks before the tour, Byrne acknowledged he struggled to adjust to the pace of the game initially. Once he did, however, all the conditioning work paid off as he excelled as the encounter progressed.
‘That time off meant I have never trained as hard and that helped today,’ he said. ‘We were surprised by them early. In Shane Williams and Tommy Bowe, we have the players to counter, but we probably tried a few too many miracle balls early on.’
The Lions trailed 25-13 with 15 minutes remaining, but from there on they scored 24 unanswered points to seal the result.
‘We never gave up, that’s the way the Lions play. But in fairness, that was probably the best game of their lives. As a backline we bombed about five tries in the opening half. When we looked at the scoreboard it wasn’t a pretty sight.’
Down by 12 points, Byrne produced the bit of individual magic that will ensure he is one of the marked men for the remainder of the tour. His massive up-and-under set up the opportunity, and that was finished with a good turn of pace.
‘That put us back into it with about 12 minutes to go. I put it up, their fullback failed to gather, and I was lucky with a good bounce.’
By Grant Ball, at Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace