The opening two fixtures of the British & Irish Lions campaign are done and dusted, and – say it in hushed tones for now in case any award winning journalists overhear – the Scottish representatives have played their part and mostly shown up pretty well.
Zander Fagerson has so far only seen a few minutes of action so far, however he will start against Cell C Sharks on Wednesday 7th July where we can more fairly gauge his performance levels. Here’s how the others have fared so far:
The loosehead whose involvement was at risk due to a shoulder knock picked up in the last Six Nations match has played 50mins in the opener v Japan in the familiar surroundings of Murrayfield.
Still getting back to fitness, he performed competently enough as he battles it out with Wyn Jones and Mako Vunipola. He left the field with the Lions 28-0 up, drew Pascal Gauzerre’s ire early doors when he conceded a free-kick in an otherwise untested Lions’ scrum. Maybe should have done the same for him as Fagerson. Will be on the bench against Sharks, ready to replace Vunipola.
The Guinness Six Nations Player of the Year played the full 80mins against Sigma Lions, winning Player of the Match in the process.
Took less than 10mins to bounce off a tackle in trademark fashion and drive over the try line from close-range. Topped the tackle count with 16/16, including a thumping hit on Burger Odendaal when the hosts were exerting some pressure. Made 25m with ball in hand, the third-highest in the pack, behind only Faletau (29m) and Itoje (26m) but this still isn’t enough for a certain pundit whom I won’t name because it would give them the attention they so desperately crave.
The Mish’s two biggest rivals at openside flanker – Josh Navidi and Tom Curry, will make their Lions’ bows against the Sharks in the 7 & 8 jerseys respectively.
Has played precisely a full-match’s worth over the two ties, 20mins against Japan and an hour against Sigma Lions.
Box kicked very well against Sigma giving Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit something to chase, delivery was crisp, and he got himself on the scoresheet from a deliberately overthrown line-out. Some had questioned his inclusion in the squad, but on current form him and Gareth Davies will have a hell of a tussle in trying to claim that Test bench spot behind tour captain Conor Murray. Davies’ familiarity with Gatland may prove to his advantage there; Price’s familiarity with the next Lion wanting to go rampant may prove to be to his.
I sometimes wonder if I’m overly biased, quite mad, or watching the same game as others when reviewing Russell’s performances, but I thought he had an extremely tidy run out against Sigma.
Kept the B&I Lions on the front foot and rolling forwards at all times, either by feeding it short to the likes of Lawes or Itoje, taking it to the line and drawing defenders in before spinning it wide or the occasional nudge ahead. It was his call to Price to play from deep which led to the first Lions score, and other than his final kick going out on the full and a bit of a mix-up in defence – which wasn’t entirely his fault – leading to the second Sigma score, it was quite a restrained performance, and not the madcap, risk-taking, silliness that some people have portrayed it as. It’s almost like they don’t approve of rugby players trying to play rugby when a good old, skyscraping Garryowen’s on offer.
Cross-kicked perfectly for one of Josh Adams’ 4-tries, and had tried one earlier from deep to the same teammate which nearly worked. Alright, it was also nearly intercepted, however, the B&I Lions were already in front and in control at this point, so it was a calculated risk at the time. And he only threw a pass across his own try-line because he knew a penalty was coming, he’s really not that daft. Biggar is still in the driving seat for Test spot unless he hits a massive slump in form.
An excellent first run out for the late-blooming Gloucester centre, who carried straight and true, and showed a lovely touch with the boot when he chipped ahead in the opening minutes. If Louis Rees-Zammit wasn’t so quick he might have collected it himself for his own debut score.
As well as showing an attacking threat, he showed up as well as we’ve come to expect in defence, making 11 tackles; one of which was vital in stopping Sigma during their first spell of pressure with the B&I Lions 14 points up.
Brought back memories of his tackle on Vakatawa in the second half when dropping Jordan Hendrikse. In very good form.
Duhan van der Merwe
Another for whom the knives were out before he’d been asked if he preferred a window or aisle seat, the hulking South African was harshly criticised despite his try-scoring performance against Japan.
Showed great energy and awareness in scoring his try, starting with a break down his natural left-wing before popping up on the right and spotting a gap round the side of a ruck to break clear and jog over the line.
Was criticised in some quarters for the amount of space he left on the outside when defending, but it looked like a systemic decision to stay narrow. Even then, when Kotaro Matsushima did get on the outside of Van der Merwe, DVDM still managed to snaffle the world-class winger.
Captains Scotland, has now captained the Lions, and after Liam Williams impressed against Japan, Hogg gave a big performance to show he wants that Test 15 shirt he was expected to claim before an unfortunate meeting with Conor Murray’s elbow on the last tour.
Took two difficult high balls early on, but his defensive highlight came in the second half when he chased down Sibusiso Sangweni from 50 yards, hauling the flanker to the floor and helping turn possession over 5m shy of the visitor’s try line.
Showed glimpses of the dancing feet and turn of pace which can unlock any defence, and stayed involved from first minute to last. With ten minutes to go he ran nearly the full length of the pitch chasing down an Elliot Daly clearance.
Liam Williams is named at full-back v Sharks with Anthony Watson – another potential 15 – on the wing, so this could signal Gatland considers it a straight shoot-out between Hogg and Williams for the full-back slot.
There are still four warm-up matches to go on this shortened tour, but so far so good to very good for the Scottish potentials. Watson, Harris, and Hogg were Test XV candidates pre-tour and have each had eighty good minutes, albeit against the supposedly weakest opposition. Fagerson’s case is currently unproven, Sutherland needs more minutes, but the half-backs and Duhan have their hats in their hands and with one more good performance will have their hats very much tossed in the ring.