Irish contingent to the fore as Japan are put to the sword

Assured pre-tour display overshadowed by injuries to Jones and Tipuric

Former Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is led from the field by medics after suffering the injury against Japan which rules him out of the tour to South Africa. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Former Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones is led from the field by medics after suffering the injury against Japan which rules him out of the tour to South Africa. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty Images

 

Lions 28 Japan 10

All analysis and much of the feel-good factor derived from a relatively assured and clinical pre-tour game, especially in the first 50 minutes, was overshadowed by the cruel injuries to Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric.

Most likely, the physical toll won’t end there given the attritional nature of the last ten months or so and the uber physical opponents who await.

After the game, it transpired that Jack Conan’s hamstring was tightening on him in the warm-up and restricted him to 65 minutes.

“Just before kick-off, Jack Conan’s hamstring was a little bit tight,” revealed Warren Gatland.

“He did brilliantly to get through 70 minutes but we made the decision to take him off and play with 14 men as it wasn’t worth losing another player before we get on the plane.”

Playing 15 minutes with 14 men was probably no harm, but that also made Conan’s display all the more impressive. He led the way with 18 carries, making 48 metres, often in the wide channels, and was one of those who relished the Lions’ clear defensive remit to hunt for choke tackles and turnovers.

Not far behind Conan was Tadhg Beirne, whose ten carries yielded 52 metres, of which half were for galloping in for his try outside the 22 from Dan Biggar’s sweet skip pass – Beirne enjoyed his try no end.

He was also a useful option in the lineouts, which Iain Henderson marshalled after Jones’ departure while also putting in a good tackling shift around the pitch, as did Tadhg Furlong in addition to some big scrummaging.

Maintaining the parochial theme, Conor Murray looked like the Test ‘9’ for the second series running even before his subsequent appointment as captain. Looking fit and sharp, his kicking, passing, tackling and running were all in good order.

Having made big inroads for the first try, Bundee Aki twice demonstrated his strength in the jackals with turnovers, and a couple of times off the deck as well, while Robbie Henshaw continued where he left off the season, tackling and carrying big, and taking his try well.

In amongst all these Irish backs, Biggar was outstanding. Nailing wide conversions, passing beautifully, kicking accurately and, as ever, putting his body on the line defensively, the Welsh outhalf threw down a marker here.

“Bundee and Robbie were excellent outside and Conor just brings that element of control,” said Gatland.

“His box-kicking was excellent today, even more so in that first 30 or 40 minutes bringing that real control to our game. He moved us up the pitch quite well. Robbie was unbelievable today, he was everywhere. Big hits, covering tackles, getting us going forward. His chat was excellent, he’s very good in the air.

“You can see why Johnny’s [Sexton] played so well for so many years, with that quality of players around him.”

Losing the last half-hour 10-0 wasn’t very clever, but then again the bench men were mostly late arrivals to Jersey.

The most concerning aspect of the display was the narrowness of the Lions defence and the space they left out wide, especially to the left where Duhan van der Merwe ran well and took his try but did miss four tackles.

Admittedly, he was up against Kotaro Matsushima. That’s called the short straw.

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