British & Irish Lions: What the pundits said

Each match from the Lions tour of South Africa is exclusively live on Sky; fans who don’t have Sky will be able to catch all the action via streaming service NOW, which offers day/monthly passes; read the thoughts of Ronan O’Gara, Sir Ian McGeechan, Sam Warburton and Maggie Alphonsi

Last Updated: 10/07/21 10:07pm

Tadhg Beirne again proved a standout in the six jersey for the Lions as they romped to a 71-31 win over the Sharks on Saturday

Tadhg Beirne again proved a standout in the six jersey for the Lions as they romped to a 71-31 win over the Sharks on Saturday

The British and Irish Lions made it three wins from three in South Africa on Saturday, as they routed the 14-man Sharks 71-31 in Johannesburg.

In all, Warren Gatland’s men put 11 tries past the Sharks, with scrum-half Jaden Hendrikse’s red card for elbowing Liam Williams on the ground in the head playing a huge part.

Centre Chris Harris, hooker Jamie George (two), wing Duhan van der Merwe, flanker Tadhg Beirne (two), No 8 Jack Conan, centre Elliot Daly, wing Anthony Watson (two) and replacement flanker Tom Curry all ended up on the scoresheet, while Dan Biggar added eight conversions.

Highlights from the Cell C Sharks against the British & Irish Lions in the third match of the tour of South Africa

Sky Sports 5:18
Highlights from the Cell C Sharks against the British & Irish Lions in the third match of the tour of South Africa

Highlights from the Cell C Sharks against the British & Irish Lions in the third match of the tour of South Africa

Below is a look at what Sky Sports‘ team of pundits made of things…

Sam Warburton on looming Test selection and who stood out

“This Saturday now is normally the first time you try to align your Test team subtly,” Warburton told the Sky Sports Rugby studio.

“I think Anthony Watson came in and proved to everybody what he was all about. Duhan van der Merwe backed up what he’s been doing all along.

Anthony Watson showed what he can do on the wing vs the Sharks, said Sam Warburton

Anthony Watson showed what he can do on the wing vs the Sharks, said Sam Warburton

“Tadhg Beirne carried really well. I think there are now some guys, even though you never know, who can be very confident, and they will know that at the back of their minds.

“But at the same time, you don’t want to lose track.

“A lot of the Sharks tries came from Lions mistakes, so they’ll know they can cut that out, and it’s good to have those learnings now and not in two weeks’ time.

Warren Gatland says his Lions players responded well after a challenging first half against the Sharks

Sky Sports 2:40
Warren Gatland says his Lions players responded well after a challenging first half against the Sharks

Warren Gatland says his Lions players responded well after a challenging first half against the Sharks

“The Lions will pick a team for the first Test, and there will almost certainly be an adjustment going into Test two.

“In 2017, Johnny Sexton was on the bench for the first Test and they brought both Sexton and Owen Farrell in for Test two, so there is more than one combination that can work.

“Neither myself, Sexton or Maro Itoje were involved in the first Test in 2017, and then we were for the second and third Tests, so players shouldn’t get disheartened if they aren’t in the first Test because they can still have pivotal roles in the weeks to come after.

Sir Ian McGeechan’s Lions XV to face Boks in first Test

After the British and Irish Lions’ 71-31 win over the Sharks on Saturday, Sir Ian McGeechan shared his starting Test XV to face Springboks

“I think hooker is a toss of a coin at the minute, at No 7 Tom Curry needs another start before you can definitively say who will play there, and I still think Bundee Aki could work at 12, as could Dan Biggar and Farrell as a 10/12.

“12, hooker and No 7 are up for grabs, but the rest of it is starting to take shape.”

Captain Jamie George says his Lions team can learn a lot from their hard-fought victory over the Sharks

Sky Sports 1:56
Captain Jamie George says his Lions team can learn a lot from their hard-fought victory over the Sharks

Captain Jamie George says his Lions team can learn a lot from their hard-fought victory over the Sharks

O’Gara disappointed with Biggar vs Sharks | “Who to play at 13 is the missing piece of the jigsaw”

“I would base my Test team around Conor Murray and Owen Farrell. I was disappointed with Dan Biggar,” Ronan O’Gara said.

“I thought he kicked the ball away unnecessarily twice, and it’s his capacity to see space. I think Farrell sees the space better.

“To back up that argument, when Biggar passes inside to Anthony Watson late on, there’s 50 or 60 metres of space with no defenders on the left-hand side. But that’s being very harsh.

Dan Biggar's performance at 10 disappointed Ronan O'Gara

Dan Biggar’s performance at 10 disappointed Ronan O’Gara

“It’s a real position of strength is the No 10, and there’s debate around No 12 and No 13 with probably a big meeting needed there.

“I think the big challenge at the minute is who to pick at 13. I don’t see a striking candidate.

“Robbie Henshaw probably would have been favoured until he got a hamstring injury, which creates a cloud over him.

“And in the back of my mind, when he plays in the centre with Garry Ringrose for Ireland, Ringrose plays at 13.

“I like the combination of Bundee Aki at 12 and Henshaw at 13, but there are so many options with the quality of players they have on this tour.

Robbie Henshaw's hamstring injury has made 13 a problem position to fix

Robbie Henshaw’s hamstring injury has made 13 a problem position to fix

“For me, it’s the big, missing piece of the jigsaw at the minute, because the way teams defend at the moment, the 13 and openside winger are just as important as your half-backs, because if you play 13 in the front-line, it takes a smart, intelligent winger to cut out what the opposition attack are doing.

“Going back five years and before that, the winger stayed in the back-field a lot. Nowadays, the winger is so important because he has to be brave, and his eyes and ears are his 13.

“You wouldn’t want to be doing that for the first time at that level [Test match vs South Africa]. So that’s why I think you need to look at combinations.”

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Alphonsi: Anthony Watson and Tadhg Beirne impressed

“Anthony Watson definitely stood out. We said that all the wingers had really stepped up and he was one who still had to show what he’s capable of doing,” said Maggie Alphonsi.

“He had a good Six Nations, even though England didn’t, so it doesn’t surprise me that he is starting to perform. He put his hand up.

“Talking about the No 6 position, I think Tadhg Beirne is one who would be the Test No 6 because of what he does.

Beirne really impressed Maggie Alphonsi, as well as Warburton and Sir Ian McGeechan

Beirne really impressed Maggie Alphonsi, as well as Warburton and Sir Ian McGeechan

“He is a big-statured player who could really front up in front of South Africa, and he scored two tries today. The way he scored them was really impressive.

“He’s strong and can get over the gain-line, which is really key. He spots gaps and the space behind a breakdown, and it is really impressive.

“He’s also starting to show that he can play like a No 7: a back-row who’s got hands, pace, and scores smart tries in space.”

McGeechan on players handling Test match omissions

“I think you’ve got to confront it,” Sir Ian McGeechan said. “We did in 1997 and again in 2009, saying: ‘Look, down the line, the first Test team will be announced, if you’re not in it, what do we need the reaction to be like? What is the way we keep everything in place?’

“And that challenges the environment. It either grows it or it starts to split it. You have to confront it, and week five for me is when any issues will come out.

McGeechan says management must confront the fact players will deal with Test omissions in different ways

McGeechan says management must confront the fact players will deal with Test omissions in different ways

“You nip everything in the bud all the way along, but you present week five and say: ‘This is the challenge.’

“If there’s niggles or injuries or things not going well, if something is going to spill over, it tends to be week five, because people put up with it for three or four weeks.

“If there’s going to be arguments or fights in training, it will be that week.”

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