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British & Irish Lions: What Sky Sports’ pundits made of the 54-7 win over the Sharks

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Every match from the British & Irish Lions tour of South Africa is exclusively live on Sky Sports; fans who don’t have Sky will be able to catch all the action via streaming service NOW, which offers day/monthly passes; watch the Sharks vs Lions on Wednesday, live on Action and Main Event

Maggie Alphonsi was impressed with Navidi's performance against the Sharks

Maggie Alphonsi was impressed with Navidi’s performance against the Sharks

The British & Irish Lions comprehensively won the second game of their COVID-disrupted South African tour, crushing the Sharks 54-7 at Ellis Park on Wednesday.

Lions players spent up to eight hours in their hotel rooms, were tested twice for COVID-19 and only found out 50 minutes before kickoff the game at Ellis Park would go ahead after two positive cases in the camp.

Gatland put together a makeshift backline, including three players carrying knocks to comprehensively beat the Sharks but left 12 players and staff self-isolating after close contact, and facing further testing on Thursday.

Sam Warburton on stronger opposition

Sky Sports British and Irish Lions captain for the win over Sharks, Iain Henderson, says this win will live in the memory after the tricky build-up to the match

The victory against the Sharks follows their 56-14 win over the Sigma Lions and has raised concerns over the quality of opposition. The Bulls game on Saturday has been cancelled, which means next Wednesday’s game against South Africa A is vital for both sides.

“Even though the Lions are ruthlessly putting teams away, they need stronger opposition,” said Warburton.

“They really need South Africa A next week – big time. The Lions need to be put under pressure before they go into that Test series. I think South Africa need that game as well. We have seen how good the Lions are going forward but we need to see how good they are going back.”

Ian McGeechan on Lions tactics

South Africa have not played a meaningful Test since their 2019 World Cup final against England. They did beat Georgia last Friday but with Friday’s second game against the Lelos cancelled, they will be battling to get Test-match fit which will benefit the Lions.

Sky Sports Duhan van der Merwe was in impressive form as he ran in three tries for the British & Irish Lions in their 54-7 win over the Cell C Sharks at Ellis Park

“There are not many players who are not playing to put themselves in the Test picture,” explained former Lions coach Sir Ian McGeechan.

“That means the coaching staff have to know exactly what the tactical approach for South Africa will be. I think the first Test will be massive for the Lions.

“The danger is that the Lions need some good opposition to really push them. I would anticipate training will be harder for the Lions than some of these games. I think you can set up 20-25 minute scenarios where the players can really challenge each other and I think they will really have to do that.

“South Africa have not had an international game of any note. I think the Lions should be a half-a step ahead, but you need that group of players who can get on the front foot and take the points.

“In 2009 we got to that first Test and we thought we were in good shape – it took us probably 20 minutes to get up to speed though.

“It will be how South Africa get back into that Test match intensity and that is why the Lions have the edge at the moment. The South Africa A game is more important to South Africa because they will have to play some of their Test combinations just to give them a feel of what they have not had for 18 months.”

Ronan O’Gara on the Lions’ mindset

Sky Sports British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says he’s proud of the togetherness the team showed after a difficult build-up to their match against Sharks

Mediocre opposition is also a concern for Ronan O’Gara but he is confident the Lions’ mindset will be a massive advantage to them.

“Two fifty pointers has been down to decent teamwork against modest opposition for me. A lot of the players the Lions have played against are Currie Cup players and are not Super Rugby players.

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“You are looking at the best of the four nations against essentially club players. You have to take that into account. You can only beat who is put in front of you and the Lions have accomplished that with relative ease.

“But there will be nowhere near the space you saw tonight anywhere in a Test match – it does not happen. The wingers are scoring because the space is just not being closed down which is one of the basic fundamentals of backline play.

“If I put my coaching hat on, we have seen an improvement in structure in terms of setting the team out – one or two errors have arrived due to the skill set, but the most fascinating aspect for me is the mindset. I think with the weakness and dilution of games, the biggest challenge for the group is setting the mindset and the vision for this team.”

Warren Gatland was delighted after the Lions stuck another 50 points on South African opposition Warren Gatland was delighted after the Lions stuck another 50 points on South African opposition

Maggie Alphonsi on who stood out against the Sharks

Former Red Roses flanker Maggie Alphonsi picked out a Lions backrower who definitely did their Test place chances plenty of good against the Sharks.

“I think some players did put their hands up, but against a sterner test would they be in your starting Test line-up?” asked Alphonsi.

Sky Sports Highlights from the British and Irish Lions’ win over Sharks at Ellis Park

“The player who stood out for me today was Josh Navidi. I think he was excellent, He is not supposed to be on this tour but he has been called up and wants to make an impact.

“You look at the work he does off the ball. Will Greenwood said at the start that he reminds him of George Smith, but for me he reminds me of Richard Hill.

“He does all that stuff that no one can see and because of that, he allows the ball to get out wide for the likes of Adams and Van der Merwe to score. That is what you want in your Test side, a player who really grafts and who never stops.

“Navidi is probably not your Test player yet, but he is really putting his hand up.”

Brian Habana on potential Lions back three

With Josh Adams scoring nine tries in his three appearances for the Lions in 2021, former Springbok Bryan Habana says the Wales flyer has almost certainly made the starting back three for the first Test. But who else is on his radar?

Man of the match Duhan van der Merwe Man of the match Duhan van der Merwe

“I initially thought that Anthony Watson would be on the other wing with Stuart Hogg at full-back. We don’t know what is going to happen in the lead up to the first Test, but you feel that Watson is in last place as he has not been able to show his stuff on this tour yet. Louis Rees-Zammit is probably not quite there yet but I think Duhan van der Merwe is knocking down the door at the moment.

“Duhan is someone who has gone away from SA shores and has really found his feet in Edinburgh and for Scotland. Duhan must be so proud – his work rate is really paying off.

“Before the tour started I said he was going to be a bolter and I think he is making that decision for Gatland and the back three position really difficult. That is a good problem to have.

“If I was Jacques Nienaber and the Springboks, I would definitely look to test him and Louis Rees-Zammit under the high ball – that is potentially areas of the game that they are not that good.

“Defensively make them make decisions, but I think Duhan, in particular, is really working hard and his efforts off the field are showing in the matches.”

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