Chiefs duo help Lions to see off Sharks
By Mark Stevens
The British and Irish Lions received their toughest test of the tour to South Africa yet, but still emerged overwhelming 71-31 winners as the Sharks fell away once Jaden Hendrikse was shown a red card for elbowing.
It was the workout Warren Gatland’s team - which included Exeter Chiefs duo Jonny Hill and Sam Simmonds - needed after opening their expedition with three routine victories, including in the first meeting with the Sharks at Emirates Airline Park on Wednesday that ended in a 54-7 rout.
The side from Natal, deputising for the Bulls who fell victim to an outbreak of coronavirus, were a different proposition three days later in the new surroundings of Loftus Versfeld.
They were ruthless at punishing the abundance of mistakes committed by the Lions, conjuring dazzling tries in the blink of an eye and were rewarded with a 26-26 half-time score.
But they were also exposed too easily and they suffered a grave setback in the 45th minute when scrum-half Hendrikse was dismissed for a brainless elbow on Liam Williams as the Wales full-back lay on the floor.
The score was still tied when Hendrikse departed and inevitably the pendulum swung dramatically in the Lions’ favour, who piled on the points against opposition full of endeavour but organisationally poor.
Jamie George, Tadhg Beirne and Anthony Watson scored two tries each and Chris Harris, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Jack Conan, Elliot Daly and Tom Curry also touched down.
Ahead of kick-off, the Lions suffered a double setback when Maro Itoje was ruled out of the starting XV by a stomach bug and Finn Russell was withdrawn from the bench because of an Achilles injury that could end his tour.
Gatland admitted it had been the most chaotic few days he has experienced as a coach and added: “One of the things we’ve done right from the start of the tour is say that there will be some chaos.
“There has been chaos. It’s then about adapting to that and then changing. That’s been the mantra. I thought we handled it during the week. I see it as a positive.
“If there’s anything wrong with us, that doesn’t upset us. We’re able to make decisions quickly and move on. We’ve just got to go with the flow and react to whatever is thrown at us.
“If anything else happens on the tour that is as chaotic as this week has been, that would probably surprise me.”