While the British & Irish Lions may have completed a fairly comprehensive victory over the Cell C Sharks in their second tour match on Wednesday evening, the statistics indicate that they had to work hard for the win.
Taking nothing away from the tourists, they deserved their victory, the result is not in question; but given the Cell C Sharks superiority in many facets of the game, the Lions finishing and counter-attack produced the goods on a night when the Cell C Sharks dominated possession, territory and attack, but aside from a lovely James Venter try, just couldn’t close out the many opportunities they created.
The Lions defence was resolute and when they forced mistakes, they capitalised in deadly fashion.
Talking after the game, Cell C Sharks head coach Sean Everitt admitted that his young, inexperienced team paid dearly for the relentless pressure they were put under but didn’t always handle the way the international tourists did.
“We’re a bit disappointed in the error rate of some of the individuals in the team, but in saying that, I think there was a lot of good to take out of the game,” Everitt explained. “We did put them under pressure but we just don’t seem to have enough patience with the ball and we have to respect the ball. At this level, playing against international rugby players, there will be consequences for the mistakes you make.
“We just have to look at the start of the game when we had two try-scoring opportunities when the passes were inaccurate and maybe we could have had 14 points on the board. And then holding on to the ball in the opposition half in the second half we got a bit clumsy there and paid the price with long range tries through the turnovers we gave to the opposition.
“In saying that, they are a very good team defensively; but at the end of the day, we have to take our learnings from this and get better.”
There is always a big step up from provincial to international rugby and the British & Irish Lions are at the latter level while the local South African teams, without their Springboks, have to come to terms with the tempo of the game in order to be competitive.
“The speed at which we allowed their attack to progress hurt us a bit, we weren’t able to set ourselves on defence early enough and while it’s not an excuse, we haven’t played international rugby in a while, our last Super Rugby game was 15 months ago.
“I think the pace of the game caught us a bit off-guard although we were expecting it. But until you actually experience it, you don’t realise how quick it really is.
“From an attack point of view, ball retention is crucial,” Everitt added.
“Holding on to the ball is vital, because when you show patience, opportunities will come.”
Playing in a game of the magnitude of this, for many of the younger, inexperienced players, the occasion may have contributed to their nerves and affected their play.
“If you compare the two teams, we are a very young team,” the coach pointed out.
“Jaden Hendrikse for example if just 20 years old and from a physicality point of view, I suppose they are bigger than us. But that’s the game of rugby and if you can’t match in size, you have to match the physicality and I thought at times we were really good.”