The British & Irish Lions turned in a far more convincing display in their second outing on this year’s Tour of South Africa, defeating the Xerox Golden Lions 74-10 in Johannesburg on Wednesday night.
The tourists, showing 12 changes to the side which stuttered to victory over a Royal XV on Saturday, ran in 10 tries in total, with man of the match Jamie Roberts and wingers Tommy Bowe and Ugo Monye all picking up braces.
Captain for the evening Brian O’Driscoll, Tom Croft, James Hook and Stephen Ferris all scored one apiece.
The Golden Lions managed just one touchdown of their own, through Shandre Frolick, on a night on which they were utterly outclassed.
That was hardly a surprise, of course, but the Super 14 outfit had been expected to provide the tourists with a far stiffer test, not least in light of their proud record of five previous wins over The British & Irish Lions.
However, unlike on Saturday in Rustenburg, an upset never looked likely.
The Lions started somewhat nervously, or perhaps more accurately Stephen Jones started somewhat nervously, the Wales fly-half twice knocking the ball on inside the first five minutes.
However, O’Driscoll, leading The Lions for the first time since being the victim of a now infamous spear tackle in New Zealand four years ago, rose to the occasion, creating the game’s opening try for Roberts with a beautiful step inside his man wide on the right flank.
The try lifted The Lions, and not least Jones, who began to show his full repertoire of kicking skills as he began to put The Golden Lions on the back foot.
A second try was inevitable and it arrived when Bowe split The Golden Lions defense with the most sumptuous of angled runs, leaving O’Driscoll with the simplest of finishes.
The Lions now looked utterly in command, with Gethin Jenkins, Lee Mears and Phil Vickery bossing their front row counterparts in the scrum and Alun Wyn-Jones and Tom Croft dominating in the air.
Jones added a penalty and although the spirited Golden Lions responded in kind through Andre Pretorius, the visitors were now punching holes in their hosts rearguard almost at will.
First Roberts was held up just short, and then Mike Phillips came with inches of the whitewash. In the end, The Lions were forced to settle for nothing more than another three points from the boot of Jones.
However, the third try that McGeechan’s men had been threatening promptly arrived two minutes later when the rampaging Roberts was again unleashed in midfield. The Blues centre off-loaded to Bowe and he invitingly spun the ball wide for Monye, who came on to the pass at such pace that he was never going to be stopped.
The Golden Lions’ frustration was obvious and, unsurprisingly, it ended up in manifesting itself in a needlessly high tackle on their tormentor-in-chief, Roberts.
The Lions would not be dissuaded, though, they just kept coming. Indeed, the threat was now coming from all over the pitch and Croft, in his first ever appearance in the famous red jersey, decided to lay down an early marker on the tour with a stirring exhibition of his ability in the loose.
Indeed, one could not help but have been impressed by the way in which the England flanker exploded off a ruck just after the half-hour mark before blazing past The Golden Lions’ covering man to score under the posts.
Moments later, he left a succession of would-be tacklers trailing in his wake again as he very nearly put David Wallace over. However, the Ireland flanker was penalized for not releasing after being held up just short of the line.
Remarkably, though, in spite of the Lions being very much in the ascendancy, it was The Golden Lions who struck next, Frolick, an early replacement for the injured Lous Ludik (suspected knee ligament damage), cruising over in the corner after a fine cross-field attack which had stretched the tourists for the first time in the game.
However, The Lions, somewhat fittingly and somewhat predictably, were to have the final say in an open and exciting first half, with the seemingly omnipresent Roberts again wriggling his way over after some neat link play from his Welsh colleagues Phillips and Jones.
The outcome of the game had been put beyond all doubt but both sides refused to let their intensity levels drop after the interval. The big hits just kept coming. Unfortunately for the Golden Lions, their visitors just kept taking them and responding with more and more tries.
Bowe, who, like Roberts, must now be considered a near-certainty to start against The Springboks, helped himself to a brace in the third quarter.
The Ospreys winger was left with a simple finish for the first of those scores, Bowe diving over in the right corner after The Lions had moved the ball wide swiftly and accurately, but his second owed everything to his own intelligence and bravery as he stepped out of the defensive line to intercept a loose pass from Frolick.
The Monaghan native further underlined his class by playing a massive part in The Lions’ next try, Bowe sending Monye through to score with the most beautifully timed of off-loads.
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