CAPE TOWN - While British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland can certainly be pleased with his team’s 28-10 victory against Japan in the 1888 Cup at the weekend, it wasn’t enough to get the warning sirens to go off for the Springboks.
The Lions produced a strong and composed opening half performance to go in 21-0 up at half-time but, as satisfactory as that scoreline sounds, they could have done more against a Japanese outfit that provided far from a decent test before the break.
Sure, there were a few things that really stood out in the Lions’ game.
For one, they looked settled as a team and that cohesion is something that might not be the case right from the start for the Boks after 19 months without international action, regardless of how good their key players have been individually for their respective overseas clubs and local franchises.
But the preparation has been there, with the team spending time together and taking shape in Bloemfontein. So that cohesion might not even be an issue at the start.
For the Lions, the performances of some of their individuals were outstanding. Man of the Match Dan Biggar was next level, while there were also a couple of superb debuts.
Their attack and the variation in the build-up to their tries were good, while their defence shut Japan’s elusive runners down. Their kicking game did the trick, and they were highly effective on the ground. It was an all-round pleasing performance.
Pleasing, but nothing that should have the Springboks worried.
For one, they could have done more against Japan - who only started really coming together in the second half - especially in the first 40, and they were rather lucky to keep such a margin between the scores after coming out of the shed.
While it’s not a reflection on their performance, the Lions also suffered a massive blow with skipper Alun Wyn Jones being ruled out of the tour.
For the Boks, there will no doubt be some concern and doubt cast over the Georgia Tests after three players returned positive Covid-19 tests, as SA Rugby announced Sunday.
But SA director of rugby Rassie Erasmus was optimistic, saying: “I don’t think we will ever not have enough players to play, even if players in our camp are positive we will have enough players to draft in. I really think it would be 100% bad luck and something external that makes that decision (the Georgia Tests not going ahead).
“I can’t see that we wouldn’t have enough numbers, even if we have to pick a new team.
“I don’t think the match is threatened at all.”
Sure, the Boks would of course benefit from giving the players they would want to rely on in the Lions Series a go before they meet the Lions, but even if they don’t get to do that with all their key guys due to further disruptions, again, the Lions were effective against Japan, but the Boks have no reason to worry.