Moment of madness hands B&I Lions a win over Sharks
MATCH REPORT: The British and Irish Lions made it back-to-back wins over the Sharks but only after coming from behind twice in a thrilling end-to-end encounter in Pretoria.
The B&I Lions outscored the Sharks 11 tries to five during the 71-31 win.
Sharks stepped up to play the Lions for the second time in four days after original opponents, the Bulls, were ruled out because of COVID-19 infections.
And the Lions were given a mighty scare by the Durban outfit, with Warren Gatland’s men finding themselves behind after Anthony Volmink and Thaakir Abrahams responded to Chris Harris’ early score.
Volmink and Jaden Hendrikse also capitalised on errors to cross for the Sharks but further Lions tries from first-time skipper Jamie George, Duhan van der Merwe and Tadhg Beirne levelled it up at the break.
A red card for Hendrikse at the start of the second half then opened the door for the tourists – and the Lions did not need a second invitation to walk through as they pulled away on the scoreboard.
* To recap all the drama and our live coverage, CLICK HERE!
Tadhg Beirne completed his brace, as did Anthony Watson, while further tries from George, Jack Conan, Elliot Daly and Tom Curry ensured the men in red finished the contest with 11 tries and another win.
While on paper this was a repeat of Wednesday’s match-up in Johannesburg, two almost completely different teams took to the field at Loftus Versfeld for the rematch.
The Sharks made 11 personnel changes to their starting line-up while only Daly and Van der Merwe retained their places from the Lions team that began the 54-7 triumph in midweek.
But while this was a new-look Lions team, the men in red played with the same intensity from the first whistle and it did not take the tourists long to find their way over the whitewash.
Fresh from his hat-trick, Van der Merwe demonstrated his devastating attacking power again by slicing through the Sharks defence before offloading to Harris to dot down inside five minutes.
The Lions did not have it all their own way, however, with the Sharks striking back with two tries in four minutes through Volmink and Abrahams to leave the Lions trailing for the first time.
Further errors from Warren Gatland’s men were punished again by Volmink and Hendrikse but the tourists responded to the pressure well to level the scores at the half-time interval.
The red card for Hendrikse proved a pivotal moment upon the restart and while the Sharks continue to fight until the final whistle, the Lions’ put their foot on the gas to complete another, ultimately, convincing win.
Watson was finally making his first start of the Tour in Pretoria after being among the players who missed out on Wednesday’s clash due to a coronavirus scare in camp.
His only previous appearance was a cameo in the win over Japan at BT Murrayfield, with the 2017 tourist watching from the sidelines as Van der Merwe and Josh Adams have run riot.
And the Bath Rugby wing was somewhat overshadowed in the first half by Scotland’s Van der Merwe, who set up the Lions’ opening try before scoring the third on 26 minutes.
But 27-year-old Watson has been one of England’s best players over the last 18 months and his class was clear for all to see as his influence gradually grew during the game.
He showed his sharp footwork several times and after also launching the move that resulted in the first try, Watson was rewarded with his first score of the Tour in the second half.
A wave of red shirts were repelled by the Sharks but after holding out several pick-and-goes, Dan Biggar found Watson on his inside and the winger powered over from close range.
He struck again just before the final whistle. With the game winding down and the Sharks tiring, Watson ran from deep and left several defenders grasping at thin air to race over for his second try.
But Watson was not the only man in the backline to put his hand up for a Test spot, with Van der Merwe impressing again while Daly enhanced his case with a try and another all-action display.
Given the honour of captaining the Lions for the first time, George made the most of his opportunity as the England hooker led from the front against the Natal outfit.
He signalled his intent inside the opening few minutes by combining with Rory Sutherland and Tadhg Furlong to earn a penalty for his side from the game’s first scrum.
Having struggled against the Sharks in the up front battle in the first half on Wednesday, it sent out an early message and provided the platform for the Lions’ opening try.
And when the tourists found themselves trailing for the first time on the 2021 Tour, it was George who popped up to score his first Lions try from the back of a rolling maul.
George was at it again moments later when he showed his dancing feet to skip past several Sharks defenders, only for Gareth Davies’ subsequent pass to be picked off by Hendrikse.
He continued to cause the Sharks problems after the restart, showing his quick-thinking to score his second try of the game in what proved to be his last act of the game.
In addition to his physical prowess and carrying ability, the Saracens No.2 was also precise with his lineout throw as he laid down an impressive marker for a Test spot.
Tries: Volmink 2, Abrahams, Hendrikse, Kok
Cons: Cronje 3
For B&I Lions:
Tries: Harris, Van der Merwe, George 2, Beirne 2, Conan, Watson 2, Daly, Currie
Cons: Biggar 9
Red card: Jadon Hendrikse (Sharks, 45 – foul play, punching)
Sharks: 15 Anthony Volmink, 14 Marnus Potgieter, 13 Werner Kok, 12 Murray Koster, 11 Thaakir Abrahams, 10 Lionel Cronje, 9 Jaden Hendrikse, 8 Phepsi Buthelezi (captain), 7 Mpilo Gumede, 6 Dylan Richardson, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Le Roux Roets, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kerron van Vuuren, 1 Ntuthuko Mchunu.
Replacements – from: 16 Dan Jooste, 17 MJ Majola, 18 Khutha Mchunu, 19 Thembelani Bholi, 20 Jeandre Labuschagne, 21 Cameron Wright, 22 Boeta Chamberlain, 23 Jeremy Ward, 24 Lourens Adriaanse, 25 Rynhardt Jonker, 26 Curwin Bosch.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Chris Harris, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Gareth Davies, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George (captain), 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Adam beard, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Tom Curry, 22 Conor Murray, 23 Bundee Aki.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper, AJ Jacobs
TMO: Stuart Berry
Source: B&I Lions