x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Golden moment for the Lions

The margin of victory surpassed expectations and the Springboks must take note after a huge improvement from McGeechan's men, writes Eddie Butler.

JOHANNESBURG// After the 10-try drubbing of the Golden Lions, the British & Irish Lions did their best to keep their delight contained. They had just beaten a Super 14 team 74-10, felt a whole lot better about playing at altitude and had gelled in all areas.

"It's not the score I'd have written down before the game," said the head coach Ian McGeechan. "I was pleased with our accuracy and I though we got a lot of our tactical decisions spot on." Pushed to be truly delighted, he conceded: "This exceeded expectations." The two centres, Brian O'Driscoll and Jamie Roberts, who had been outstanding as a pairing and as a pair of individuals, were having nothing to do with excess. "We'll not get ahead of ourselves," warned O'Driscoll, the captain on Wednesday night. "We'll get our heads down tomorrow."

But hadn't this been one of his most enjoyable Lions games? "Yes." Roberts repeated the obligation not to be carried away: "This is a marker laid down, that's all. It's up to the next team on Saturday to raise the bar again." But hadn't he realised how good he and O'Driscoll had been as an artful, forceful unit? "The tight five were immense," he deflected. "It was their work that freed up our space. Happy days."

Roberts was the official man of the match in the second game of the tour, but it might well have been Tommy Bowe, who scored two tries himself and came off his right wing to have a hand in half a dozen of the other touchdowns. It might even have been blind side flanker Stephen Ferris who came off the bench and ran away for the final try of the night, the Golden Lions' right wing Michael Killian unable to catch him.

Any doubts over the calf Ferris strained climbing off, of all things, the team bus last Saturday, were dispelled. Five tries came in the first half and five in the second. "It was not easy to maintain focus, but I was pleased with our levels of concentration," said McGeechan. O'Driscoll was even more satisfied with the defence that did not leak a try in the second half, having been breached just the once, by Shandre Frolick in the first. "That was the most pleasing thing. We take great pride in keeping the opposition off the whitewash," he said.

"No place is guaranteed, except Paulie's [the captain Paul O'Connell]. We put a lot of pressure on each other. It's good to see the lads improving. There's a buzz about the squad, and we're building on unity." After the near derailment of Rustenburg in the first match, this was more than just a correction. The Golden Lions looked a bit like a team that had threatened strike action only last week, after the sacking of their coach - which is exactly what they were - but to beat them by such a margin was an exceptional achievement.

Did O'Driscoll think the Springboks would have been impressed? "74-10 - somebody's going to take note of it." Tomorrow's opponents, the Free State Cheetahs, no doubt did. sports@thenational.ae