Watson stars on Lions debut
Hamish Watson played a starring role on his British & Irish Lions debut as the back-row scored a try and was named Player of the Match as the tourists kicked-off their Castle Lions Series with a 14-56 victory over the Sigma Lions.
In an all-action, 80 minute performance, Watson impressed in every facet of the match, with the back-row showcasing his power game for a well-taken score in the 6th minute.
Watson was also a nuisance at the breakdown throughout the impressive tour opening victory, with his speed and elusive ball carrying a constant threat to the Sigma Lions' defence.
Speaking after the victory, Watson, said: “It’s just great to finally be here, I think the Tour was up in the air for a few months so it’s just great for the boys to get their first caps.
“I just really enjoyed it, it’s great to play with players I’ve never played with before.
“It was a lot of the boys’ first run out for the Lions, lots of boys playing with people they’ve never played with, so it was never going to be perfect.
“But it was awesome for me to get my first win for the Lions and a good performance from the team. A lot to work on but a team heading in the right direction with four warm-up games to go.”
A scintillating four-try second-half showing from Josh Adams helped The British & Irish Lions get the 2021 Castle Lager Lions Series off to a perfect start with a 56-14 victory over Sigma Lions in Johannesburg.
Seven days on from the win over Japan at BT Murrayfield, the Lions started their 2021 Tour in earnest with an eight-try showing on South African soil.
Debutants Louis Rees-Zammit and Hamish Watson both scored inside the first seven minutes before scrum-half Ali Price, on his first Lions start, got a third try before half-time.
Vincent Tshituka and Rabz Maxwane did score for Sigma Lions either side of half-time but Adams’ double early in the second half, plus a try in the final quarter from Gareth Davies and Adams going over twice more, secured a convincing margin of victory.
It was the ideal result in the Lions’ first match in South Africa for 12 years, as they build towards the much-anticipated Test series against the Springboks.
DEBUTANTS OFF TO A FLYER
When pulling on the famous red jersey for the first time, you want to settle in early and ideally make an immediate impact – Rees-Zammit and Watson certainly did that.
The 20-year-old Rees-Zammit is the Lions’ youngest debutant since John Devereux in 1986 and it took him just three minutes to make his mark as he latched on to a dink over the top from his Gloucester Rugby teammate Chris Harris, another man on debut, and burned away for the try.
Back-rower Watson – who was the 2021 Six Nations Player of the Championship – then got his debut score after six minutes, bouncing off a tackler to dot down under the posts, before sealing a crucial turnover later in the first 40 and being involved in Adams’ score after the break.
Harris didn’t get a try of his own but also impressed, in the first half especially, with intelligent running lines, powerful carries and the clever try assist for Rees-Zammit, while the fourth debutant in the starting XV – lock Jonny Hill – was vital in the tight.
TANDY’S DEFENCE BARE THEIR TEETH
Following the tourists’ flying start, the defence had a chance to bare their teeth during a sustained spell of Sigma Lions pressure and defence coach Steve Tandy will have been delighted with what he saw.
Sigma spent almost ten straight minutes in the Lions 22 but left without a point as tigerish tackling, breakdown disruption and eventually Watson forcing a turnover kept the hosts short of the line at close quarters.
Tshituka did powerfully finish off a counter-attacking try before the break, while Maxwane touched down after it but the Lions largely held firm and skipper Stuart Hogg produced a brilliant, last-ditch covering tackle after chasing down Sbusiso Sangweni, who looked set for a 70-metre breakaway score.
While the aggressive blitz defence that Tandy favours occasionally allowed the hosts additional space behind the line as the sets still get bedded in, it helped the Lions dominant the collision and control the breakdown.
It’s now five tries in just two games as a Lion for Adams after a series of impressive finishes from the Welsh wing wizard and he was deservedly voted the Fans’ Man of the Match.
Having opened his tally against Japan a week ago, Adams was prolific in the second half in Johannesburg to become the first man to score four tries in a game for the Lions since Shane Williams in 2005.
He slalomed between defenders after good work from Price and Watson for his first, less than a minute into the second period, and then touched down a precise Finn Russell kick after leaping high for his second.
Adams showed his pace to streak clear down the left to complete his hat-trick on 69 minutes before being left alone out wide again eight minutes from time to grab a fourth.
It was a consummate display of finishing from the winger as he certainly put his hand up to Warren Gatland to be in the Test frame.
THE RUSSELL-FARRELL AXIS
A lot of the pre-match talk centred around how Russell and Owen Farrell would combine in the 10-12 axis, with the Scot’s game-breaking abilities at fly-half and the Englishman’s game management outside him set to dovetail.
Both were keen to stake a claim for the No.10 Test jersey after Dan Biggar impressed against Japan a week ago and they both made their mark.
There were moments when they would interchange positions – with Farrell being first receiver and Russell looping around – and this double playmaker pivot foxed the Sigma Lions at times.
Farrell assisted Price’s try with a neat pop pass inside, while Russell, as he had done all season for Racing 92, produced a sumptuous try assist of his own when he chipped across to Adams.
Farrell was also perfect from the tee as he nailed all eight conversions and Gatland will certainly have some decisions to make when it comes to his half-backs.