The Lions scored a record win over the Natal Sharks in Durban this evening, but the critics have the knives out and don’t seem as impressed as we do with the performance.
In all truth, this was a one sided match. Bizarrely though, it was significantly more so in the first half, but the damage on the scoreboard was mostly done in the second half. The Lions crossed the whitewash five times during the game, but with a sole try from Lee Mears late in the first half the only reward for concerted pressure throughout the first forty minutes.
In the second half, the Lions enjoyed less of the domination that they had imposed in the first half but outscored the Sharks by 32 points to nil as they comfortably swept aside their hosts.
Given that this was quite clearly a sign of things to come with a number of the players on show destined to play in the tests, it was quite obvious to see which combinations would work and which really didn’t and I don’t think there was anything new to be learned that we didn’t already know.
The players that had already put their hands up like Lee Byrne, Jamie Roberts, Brian O’Driscoll etc all showed their class and reaffirmed their status as guaranteed starters for the test matches, whilst the players with question marks over their heads did very little to improve their chances.
In particular, it is probably the end of the road for Shane Williams who looks nothing like the player who earned the World Player of the Year award just six months ago. With Williams woefully out of form and O’Gara kicking away every golden opportunity on offer, it was no surprise that they couldn’t finish off the moves that the forwards had created and this surely spells the end of these two for their test claims.
Up front, the Lions looked considerably better than their showing on Saturday with only a few more issues at the breakdown to sort out. Losing Stephen Ferris earlier in the week will be a big blow to the Lions and Tom Croft successfully furthered his claims this evening for that blindside jersey that is still up for grabs.
One area of particular concern for the Lions will be the referring at scrum time. With Gethin Jenkins being unfairly penalised time and again by referee Jonathan Kaplan for dropping the scrum it will certainly be an area the Lions will need to look at, particularly when up against the Springbok captain John Smit and Natals very own “Beast” Tendai Mtawarira.
With two more matches to go before the first test back here in Durban, it is now getting to the crunch time for players and those looking to clinch those last few remaining open test shirts will really need to put their stake in the ground now if they are to stand any chance of making a reappearance back here in ten days time.