The late Brian Hanrahan of BBC earned a place in the Lines of Our Time hit parade when he told viewers he counted them all out — RAF jets off the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes — and he counted them all back. Reporting restrictions in the Falklands War precluded mentioning exactly how many Harrier jets he was talking about. It was a neat workaround.
n Saturday we counted the entire Irish contingent onto the field at Murrayfield and crossed fingers the seven would all get back to the changing room in one piece, having looked after Japan. As Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones would testify, the chief objective in a pre-tour Test like this is to finish it. His race is already run. It remains to be seen if Justin Tipuric will be on the flight or not after suffering a stinger to his shoulder.
Jack Conan was the only Ireland player to leave ahead of schedule. The Lions had run out of forward replacements when he departed on 70 minutes, when his hamstring tightened up. In the circumstances there was no debate about checking out.
For two of the outside bets to make this squad in the first place, it was an especially good day out. Bundee Aki was long odds when everyone was picking squads for fun, but he made an important point here. The presence of Owen Farrell in the squad not only has positive implications for cover at 10 but it gives Warren Gatland a second playmaker at inside centre. Aki wouldn’t claim that skill on his CV, but what he does he does very well.
It helped that he was doing it alongside Robbie Henshaw, whose stellar form shows no sign of taking a dip. Conor Murray too had a decent run out before being replaced by Ali Price. This was an above average workout against a team who, like South Africa, haven’t had a run since the 2019 World Cup. It showed. Handling is typically a strength of Japanese sides but they were outclassed even on that by a composite side who managed to look like they were comfortable in what they were doing. It wasn’t revelatory, but then it wasn’t supposed to be.
If you were a forward you’d be delighted with the set-piece work put to bed. Tadhg Furlong had a terrific game. The speed and aggression of the Lions defence was very good, and Furlong led the charge. His ability to combine footwork with power when he carries sets him apart from most men in his position.
Behind him Iain Henderson came through impressively. No one budgeted for losing the captain after seven minutes but Henderson ran the lineout well and contributed around the field. It was in the back-row though where the biggest impressions were made. Long before Gatland named his squad we could see two men with their names in lights: Andrew Porter, whose talents marked him out early as a nailed-on selection; and Tadhg Beirne.
Porter unfortunately was taken out of the frame early, but Beirne — in his best position, on the short side — had a terrific game. There isn’t much he can’t do on a rugby field but for those arriving late to his growing band of admirers, there was pace to register as well. The acceleration produced to take him clear for his try under the sticks was top quality.
Alongside him, Conan had a great afternoon as well. He started by getting his hands in to turn ball over and went on from there. If his hamstring tightness is no more than that, he’ll have a fine tour.
Scorers – Lions: Adams, Van der Merwe, Henshaw, Beirne tries; Biggar 4 cons; Japan: Himeno try; Tamaura pen, con.
British and Irish Lions: L Williams (A Watson 65); J Adams, R Henshaw, B Aki (O Farrell 55), D Van der Merwe; D Biggar, C Murray (A Price 64); R Sutherland (W Jones 52), K Owens (J George 55), T Furlong (K Sinckler 52), I Henderson, AW Jones (C Lawes 8), T Beirne, J Conan (not replaced, 70), J Tipuric (T Faletau 22).
Japan: R Yamanaka; K Matsushima, T Lafaele, R Nakamura, S Fifita; Y Tamura, K Shigeno; K Inagaki, A Sakate, J Koo, W Van der Walt, J Moore, M Leitch, A Mafi, L Labuschagne.
Referee: P Gauzerre (France).
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