Lions count the cost of an expensive weekend in Edinburgh

It was an expensive weekend in Edinburgh for the Lions - and not only for the fans.

Duhan van der Merwe scores the Lions' second try against Japan at Murrayfield. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Duhan van der Merwe scores the Lions' second try against Japan at Murrayfield. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

Supporters who paid up to £145 for a ticket for the Japan game and were denied a half-time pint took to Twitter to air their grumblings but the decision to shut the Murrayfield bars early was small beer compared to what was happening on the pitch.

In the space of a few first-half minutes Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric sustained shoulder injuries that would rule them out of the tour to South Africa.

The loss of Jones, the captain, would have been particularly keenly felt by Warren Gatland but the Lions coach had little time to mope. With the squad leaving for Johannesburg on Sunday Gatland had to act quickly and late on Saturday night he appointed scrum-half Conor Murray as his new skipper.

Fans were back inside Murrayfield and were able to celebrate when Duhan van der Merwe ran in a try. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

There were also call-ups for Welsh pair Adam Beard and Josh Navido who have replaced their injured compatriots.

Gatland had lost his leader but in the minutes after the 28-10 win over Japan he had already put sentiment to one side.

“No one is in shock because if you are in shock then it reflects back into the whole squad,” said the coach ahead of his fourth Lions tour.

“We understand that things are different, we’ve got to be fluid, we’ve got to be able to move on, and we’ve got to be able to react and make decisions. That’s the only way you can deal with it.

The Lions, with injured captain Alun Wyn Jones, pose with the 1888 Cup after the win over Japan.

“If you kind of go into a shock scenario and look as though you are panicking about it then that is going to reflect badly on us.

“It is disappointing for Alan Wyn, it is disappointing for Justin Tipuric, but we’ve just got to make the right decisions and do that as quickly as we possibly can in the calmest way we possibly can.”

The wisdom of taking on such a match on the eve of departure is something the Lions management will reflect on during the long flight. Certainly, the players benefitted from the workout but the cost was high.

With five games scheduled in South Africa before the Test series is due to begin it could be argued that there was ample time for the team to blend. Nevertheless, it was good to see supporters back inside Murrayfield after a ten-month gap.

Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones dislocated his shoulder and has been ruled out of the tour. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

The 16,500 who shelled out saw a slice of history and also some flashes of fine attacking play from Gatland’s side who took control of the game with three tries in a fruitful spell midway through the first half.

The Lions had never played in Scotland before and there was a buzz around the city centre on the morning of the match as red-shirted fans converged. The stadium was only quarter-full due to Covid restrictions but it was still rugby's biggest crowd since the pandemic began and the noise levels were impressive.

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With this being a debut outing for the 2021 Lions against a Japan team playing their first Test match since the 2019 World Cup quarter-final, both sides showed signs of rust. The Lions shook it off quickest and took the game to opponents who looked defensively vulnerable.

Gregor Townsend, the attack coach, had billed Japan as the most dangerous opening opponents in Lions history, but they looked a pale shadow of the side that defeated Ireland and Scotland at the World Cup.

The breakthrough came after 13 minutes when Bundee Aki blasted through and Wales wing Josh Adams took advantage of the space to open his try account.

Japan’s soft side was highlighted by the Lions’ second try but it was a great moment for Duhan van der Merwe. Having plucked the ball out of a ruck, the Scotland wing scampered down the blindside unimpeded to touch down in the same corner Adams had.

Van der Merwe continues to break new ground in this his first season at international level. Having finished the Six Nations as top try-scorer he can now add a score on his Lions debut to his CV.

Robbie Henshaw, the Ireland centre, scored a third try shortly afterwards and with Dan Biggar converting all three the Lions looked out of sight with a 21-0 half-time lead.

That was the good news, The bad was that they had lost Jones and Tipuric inside the first 21 minutes.

The captain suffered a dislocated shoulder in a ruck clear-out and was replaced by Courtney Lawes in the eighth minute. Tipuric followed Jones off shortly afterwards, also nursing an injured shoulder and a look of disappointment.

The Lions extended their lead in the second half through a fine try from Tadhg Beirne but that was the end of the scoring by the home team who allowed Japan to creep back into the game in the latter stages.

Replacement back row Kazuki Himeno burrowed over for a try from a lineout move and Yu Tamura added the conversion and a penalty as the closing stages became something of a slog for the Lions.

They were forced to play the last 10 minutes with 14 men after Jack Conan went off injured with all the replacements already on the pitch, and they spent most of it defending their line.

Next up for the Lions is the first tour match, a game against their near namesakes, the Emirates Lions, in Johannesburg on Saturday.

Scorers. British and Irish Lions: Tries: Adams, van der Merwe, Henshaw, Beirne. Cons: Biggar 4.

Japan: Try: Himeno. Con: Tamura. Pen: Tamura.

British and Irish Lions: Williams; Adams, Henshaw, Aki, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Murray; Sutherland, Owens, Furlong, Henderson, AW Jones (capt), Beirne, Tipuric, Conan

Subs:George, W Jones, Sinckler, Lawes, Faletau, Price, Farrell, A Watson.

Japan: Yamanaka; Matsushima, Lafaele, Nakamura, Fifita; Tamura, Shigeno; Inagaki, Sakate, Koo, Van der Walt, Moore, Leitch (capt), Labuschagne, Mafi.

Subs: Horikoshi, Millar, Ai Valu, Cornelson, Himeno, Tatafu, Saito, Matsuda.

Referee: Pascal Gauzere (France)

Attendance: 16,500.

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