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British & Irish Lions: What the pundits said

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Sky Sports pundits and former Lions Sam Warburton, Ronan O’Gara and Sir Ian McGeechan all shared their views on how Warren Gatland’s side are shaping up following the 56-14 win over the Sigma Lions

Last Updated: 04/07/21 6:52am

Hamish Watson made a big impression for the Lions

Hamish Watson made a big impression for the Lions

The British & Irish Lions got off to a winning start in South Africa as they put the Sigma Lions to the sword with a 56-14 win in Saturday’s match.

Four tries from Josh Adams and a man of the match performance from Hamish Watson were the highlights for Warren Gatland’s side against an opposition who were outmatched in most departments.

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Here is a look at what Sky Sports‘ team of pundits made of the Lions’ performance…

Highlights from the opening match of the British and Irish Lions' tour of South Africa as they faced Sigma Lions at Ellis Park

Sky Sports 4:52
Highlights from the opening match of the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa as they faced Sigma Lions at Ellis Park

Highlights from the opening match of the British and Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa as they faced Sigma Lions at Ellis Park

Warburton: Watson ‘couldn’t have had a better first game’

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Sam Warburton was quick to sing the praises of Hamish Watson after the Scotland international’s starring role on his first appearance for the Lions.

The former back row knows from his own playing days the dangers posed by flanker Watson, who made some strong carries with the ball in hand and was a menace at the breakdown against the Sigma Lions.

Warburton believes there are very few weaknesses to the Scotland international’s game and sees him as having staked a claim for one of those back row positions ahead of Tom Curry getting an opportunity.

“I played against him many times and he’s certainly one of the best No. 7s I’ve played against,” Warburton said.

British & Irish Lions: What the pundits said

Lions ratings: Watson and Adams the standouts

Pick through the player ratings from the British and Irish Lions’ 56-14 opening tour victory vs the Sigma Lions in Johannesburg.

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“Normally when you play in the back row, you’ve got to be a specialist at something whether that’s in the breakdown, ball carrying, or in the line-out. He seems to do a bit of everything, but really well – quite similar to Sean O’Brien in his pomp.

“I thought he carried so explosively and over that five-metre distance, he’s probably one of if not the most powerful ball-carrier we have in the Lions team. I thought he was great on the floor, he competed hard at the breakdown too.

“He knows he had to have a big game because he’s got Tom Curry, who is one of the best No. 7s in the world and is going to be starting next week. Realistically, he couldn’t have had a better first game in a Lions shirt.”

O’Gara: Questions for Gatland at fly-half

Finn Russell was given the nod at fly-half for the clash with the Sigma Lions, with Owen Farrell moving to the No. 10 role from inside centre later on the match after Elliot Daly entered the fray.

Finn Russell started at fly-half against the Sigma Lions

Finn Russell started at fly-half against the Sigma Lions

Russell produced some moments of magic, but also made a couple of errors, and former Lions and Ireland international Ronan O’Gara feels he may be better utilised coming off the replacements bench when the Test series against South Africa starts.

Dan Biggar, who has been in outstanding form for Wales and club side Northampton Saints, is also pushing for the starting fly-half spot.

“I think our point of difference will be if we can get tempo or flow on a phase game and then variety in our kicking game,” O’Gara said. “If it’s a Barbarians game, there is no decision – it’s Finn Russell starting at No. 10.

“But at this level, 60 percent of it is defence and 40 percent is attack, and you need to build your team around that because occasions to score are so precious and it’s so difficult.

Finn Russell started at fly-half against the Sigma Lions

Finn Russell started at fly-half against the Sigma Lions

“Even to give up 14 points, that’s too much to give up to a South African game and you have to be so stingy in defence. So much of that is going to be crucial, so I’m absolutely intrigued to see which way he goes.

“The point of difference for me would be you have an ace up your sleeve with Russell on the bench depending on how the game is going. Can he weave his magic in the first 30 minutes of a Test match? I wouldn’t be so sure.”

McGeechan: Lions ahead of the Springboks

The match against the Sigma Lions marked the third week of this year’s Lions squad being together, having headed to Jersey for a pre-tour training camp and then faced Japan at Murrayfield prior to flying out to South Africa.

By contrast, Friday saw the Springboks return to action for the first time since lifting the 2019 Rugby World in the first of two warm-up matches against Georgia.

Lions head coach Warren Gatland was pleased to start the tour of South Africa with a 56-14 win over Sigma Lions and believes there is more to come from his side

Sky Sports 2:30
Lions head coach Warren Gatland was pleased to start the tour of South Africa with a 56-14 win over Sigma Lions and believes there is more to come from his side

Lions head coach Warren Gatland was pleased to start the tour of South Africa with a 56-14 win over Sigma Lions and believes there is more to come from his side

Sir Ian McGeechan, who coached the Lions on both their 1997 and 2009 tours of South Africa, believes current head coach Gatland and his team are better placed than Jacques Nienaber’s men at this point.

“At the moment, I’d put Gats ahead of the Springboks,” McGeechan said. “They’ve got one more game to play, the Lions have still got four in which the combinations can work, they can get a feel and they’re rubbing shoulders.

“They need stronger opposition, without a doubt. Japan were good opponents for an hour, but this was poor. That self-discipline to still do the right things is sometimes the biggest thing that comes out of games like this and that you have a ruthlessness about what you are doing.

“You don’t do things free and easy, you do the things you know are going to make a difference in a Test match and you keep working at a side and giving it no way back – even if you’re 50 points up.”

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British & Irish Lions: What the pundits said
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