They had talked endlessly about defence before the first of their serious provincial examinations on this six-week tour, but when the British and Irish Lions arrived last night at the scene of South Africa's mighty triumph in the 1995 World Cup – Nelson Mandela and all that – they swept away the locals with the majesty of their attack. Thirty-nine points in the opening 40 minutes, many of them inspired by Brian O'Driscoll, was just reward for a performance rich in vision and invention.
One touch early in the second period from O'Driscoll, back on duty here in Johannesburg after being used and abused so cruelly by the All Blacks in New Zealand in 2005, captured the spirit of the tourists' approach, which was immeasurably more assured than their dismal effort in Rustenburg at the weekend. O'Driscoll flicked a sublime blind pass to Stephen Jones that so befuddled the hosts' midfield that rugby seemed no longer to be merely the art of the possible. A try was the result, but it was O'Driscoll's imagination that took the breath away.
He was far from alone in tripping the light fantastic. Jamie Roberts, his midfield partner, built on an impressive Lions debut in Rustenburg by making an almighty mess of the Golden Lions centres, Jannie Boshoff – make that Jannie Boshed – and Doppies La Grange. Tommy Bowe roamed far and wide to striking effect, and with Alun-Wyn Jones and Tom Croft rampaging across broad acres at the head of the forward pack, the tourists had their opponents beaten all ends up.
By close of play the hosts were utterly demoralised, to the extent that James Hook and Stephen Ferris, two substitutes, were able to run 60-odd metres for tries that took the tourists' tally to 10. They have been playing these opponents in their various guises – Transvaal, Gauteng – since 1891. Never before have they won with anything like such contemptuous ease.
"We showed a lot of accuracy, made good tactical decisions, and when we created the space, we finished well," said the head coach, Ian McGeechan, who will count this among his more rewarding Lions experiences. "It's given us a sighter of what is possible here if we do things well. We'll have to lift ourselves another level over the next three weeks, but the important thing for us is to feed off each performance."
And what a performance they will gorge on ahead of this weekend's difficult match in Bloemfontein. The Golden Lions had spent the previous few days in a state of turmoil: one sacked coach, one threatened strike by the players, one fit of pique at a perceived snub by the Springbok hierarchy, who chose only a couple of their number in a 28-man squad for the forthcoming Test series. Yet there was always the suspicion that these trials and tribulations would strengthen their resolve rather than weaken it, and when the flanker Cobus Grobbelaar led out his team at express pace, it may have been the fastest entry since the Boks' famous cavalry charge at Port Elizabeth a quarter of a century ago.
They looked unusually powerful, especially up front, yet were out of the contest inside a quarter of an hour as Roberts and O'Driscoll slashed through for early tries, both of them converted by Stephen Jones. There was better to come. After a penalty exchange between the kickers Roberts combined with Bowe up the middle and sent Ugo Monye cruising in.
A short while later, the aggressive Nathan Hines stole the ball at a ruck and the fourth try came in short order. O'Driscoll was involved, naturally, as was Bowe, and the upshot was a clear run into the distance for Croft, whose ability to cover all parts of the field had already caught the eye. When Roberts completed the first-half scoring in stoppage time, the tourists had rattled along at virtually a point a minute – a remarkable feat in a match of this calibre.
There was less to set the juices flowing after the interval, apart from Bowe running in a couple of tries – the first from that delicious O'Driscoll pass, the second from an interception. The wing also conjured a flick out of the tackle to send Monye away on another scoring gallop, but by that time, the likes of O'Driscoll and Roberts were safe and sound on the bench and they revelled in the sight of Hook and Ferris rubbing salt in a wound inflicted in South Africa's biggest city but felt throughout an entire rugby nation.
Scorers: Golden Lions: Try Frolick; Conversion Pretorius; Penalty Pretorius. British and Irish Lions: Tries Roberts 2, Bowe 2, Monye 2, O'Driscoll, Croft, Hook, Ferris. Conversions S Jones 6, Hook 3. Penalties S Jones 2.
Golden Lions: L Ludik (S Frolick, 7); M Killian, J Boshoff (W Venter, 49), G La Grange, D Noble; A Pretorius, J Vermaak (C Jonck, 68); L Sephaka (J Van Rensburg, 49), W Wepener (E Reynecke, 57), G Muller, B Mockford (T Clever, 40), W Stoltz (E Joubert, 4-14 and 57), C Grobbelaar (capt), F Van der Merwe, W Alberts.
British & Irish Lions: R Kearney (Ireland); T Bowe (Ireland), B O'Driscoll (Ireland, capt), J Roberts (Wales), U Monye (England); S Jones (Wales), M Phillips (Wales); G Jenkins (Wales), L Mears (England), P Vickery (England), N Hines (Scotland), A W Jones (Wales), T Croft (England), D Wallace (Ireland), J Heaslip (Ireland). Replacements: S Ferris (Ireland) for Wallace, 46; J Hook (Wales) for Roberts, 53; S Williams (Wales) for O'Driscoll, 61; H Ellis (England) for S Jones, 63; A Powell (Wales) for Croft, 67; R Ford (Scotland) for Mears, 67; E Murray (Scotland) for Vickery, 67.
Referee: C Joubert (South Africa).Reuse content