The British & Irish Lions demolished the Pussycats 74-10 in an entertaining display of running rugby.
The Johannesburg side struggled in the Super 14 and last week Loffie Eloff received his marching orders. In the wake of that drama, it was always going to be tough and the Golden Lions looked every inch a team in turmoil as they capitulated to the tourists.
Brian O’Driscoll’s men were innovative and clinical, but the hosts contributed to the inflated scoreline through their staggered defence, piss-poor handling and inability to finish. Ian McGeechan will be pleased with resultant momentum, but the Lions’ mentor will also know the win came against a very weak side.
The northerners surprised with an inclination to swing the ball at every opportunity. There were a few dropped passes early on, but it was clear the coaching staff had told the Lions to have a go. They rarely kicked for territory and usually opted to attack the line and look for the offload. It was a tactic that proved successful time and again.
The hosts suffered a crippling blow when fullback Louis Ludik was hit by David Wallace a nano-second after clearing the line. After just five minutes, the Golden Lions were without their first-choice fullback, and with Earl Rose pulled from this fixture by Peter de Villiers at the 11th hour, Shandre Frolick was asked to fill the void.
The absence of Ludik was felt almost immediately as Frolick sliced a kick for territory into the hands of the opposition. Moments later he dropped a high bomb under no pressure whatsoever, a mistake that gifted the tourists a prime attacking platform from 25m out.
Credit to the visitors, they took their opportunities. Their forwards were better at ruck time which allowed Mike Phillips ample time to clear, and the backline hardly put a foot wrong. O’Driscoll’s class was evident as early as the 11th minute when he hit the line and offloaded to centre-partner Jamie Roberts for the opening try.
Roberts delivered another strong performance. Every time he got the ball he made metres, and more often than not he beat the first defender. The local defence was of the lowest order, but Roberts’s power through the tackle and balanced running style suggest he’ll be a player to watch in the coming Test series.
The visitors shot to a 17-0 lead after 16 minutes and this allowed them even more freedom to run. The local team made the cardinal error of affording the opposition too much space to attack. While the tourists looked brilliant at times, they were helped by the sheer mediocrity of the Golden Lions.
Tom Croft looked like David Campese when he waltzed his way past several defenders. A typical Roberts surge set the platform for a speculative pass to Ugo Monye, and his finish looked good because the cover defence was so poor.
Jano Vermaak was a man alone for the hosts, showing his individual quality in an overall flop. There were some fierce hits delivered on the visitors, but they hardly impacted the scoreboard or flow of play. It may have given the disappointingly small crowd of 22 000 something to cheer about, but that bone-buckling intensity was never maintained.
Winger Tommy Bowe opened the second half with a try and added his second on the hour. The latter score was a product of patient defence as the Irishman read the play beautifully, intercepting a flat pass to run 50m for the touch down. It was a score that brought up the tourists’ half-century.
McGeechan said they wouldn’t show their true hand in these first three games, and so the result means little in the context of the Test series. This blowout will give the tourists confidence and help in their development as unit, but it is not real indicator of their aptitude at Test level.
By Jon Cardinelli, at Ellis Park