The Lions stuttered to a rather flattering 37 points to 25 win over the Royal XV at Rustenburg this afternoon.
The Lions were losing the match for the majority of the game and it was only a try from replacement Alun Wyn-Jones with three minutes to go that finally gave the Lions a lead. Ronan O’Gara finished off the match by converting his own try on the final whistle, leaving the Lions with a far more convincing score than they really deserved.
The Royal XV came out of the blocks well and took their chances, outscoring the Lions two tries to one in the first half. Tries from captain Wilhelm Koch and Rayno Barnes gave the hosts a significant first half advantage before Tommy Bowe scored a vital try for the Lions just before the break.
The Lions clawed their way back into the game late into the second half with a try from deserved man of the match Lee Byrne before Wyn Jones and O’Gara finished off the game.
There were problems at the breakdown for the Lions with the referee going very easy on the opposition, but the Lions really needed to put the Royals under a bit more pressure and show a bit more discipline themselves.
Especially early on, there were far too many handling errors from the Lions with Mike Blair and youngster Keith Earls showing their nerves and having a bit of a nightmare. No one covered themselves in glory until Roberts made the initial break for the first Lions try.
O’Connell will need to stand up and show more leadership of his team to bring some of his youngsters through in these big matches. It was particularly noticeable that O’Connell did not offer a few words of encouragement for Earls when he was having a particularly sticky time and he will need to show a bit more of the sort of leadership for Munster in the Lions jersey if we are to get the best out of the players on tour.
Stand out players for the Lions were undoubtedly the welsh pair of Jamie Roberts and Lee Byrne and you would have to think that on this sort of form Byrne has probably already inked his name onto the test team sheet.
The Lions now move on to Johannesburg to meet the Golden Lions, a much classier Super 14 outfit who will certainly provide a tougher challenge than the Royal XV. Let’s hope that this early Royal wake-up call is of benefit to the Lions and has served to settle a few nerves and iron out unforced errors.