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B&I Lions beat 14-man Sharks 71-31 after 1st half struggles

July 10, 2021 GMT
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British and Irish Lions' captain Jamie George, centre, breaks a way from South African Sharks' Werner Kok, left, and teammate Le Roux Roets during a warm-up rugby match between South Africa's Sharks and British and Irish Lions at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, July 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
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British and Irish Lions' captain Jamie George, centre, breaks a way from South African Sharks' Werner Kok, left, and teammate Le Roux Roets during a warm-up rugby match between South Africa's Sharks and British and Irish Lions at the Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, Saturday, July 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The British and Irish Lions overcame a troublesome first half when they conceded four tries and made costly errors to ultimately blow away the 14-man Sharks 71-31 in South Africa on Saturday.

The teams were locked at 26-26 at halftime at Loftus Versfeld after the Sharks pounced on errors by the Lions for three of their four first-half tries.

The Lions also scored four tries in that first 40 but the touring team was the one under pressure at the break. Lions coach Warren Gatland watched the first half stern-faced and with his arms crossed for most of it.

The Lions scored inside five minutes when Duhan van der Merwe’s break set up center Chris Harris in the left corner. Van der Merwe also scored a try but the Lions trailed three times in the first half and had to keep clawing their way back.

The game changed decisively in the Lions’ favor when Sharks scrumhalf Jaden Hendrikse was sent off early in the second half for an elbow to the back of Lions fullback Liam Williams’ head.

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Hendrikse — one of the Sharks’ first-half try-scorers — was in the middle of a bunch of players who crashed over the touchline while wrestling for the ball. Lying on top of Williams, he lifted his arm up and rammed his elbow down into the back of the Lions player’s head and neck.

The Lions made the Sharks pay for that on the scoreboard.

It was still 26-26 when Hendrikse walked. But from there the Lions piled on seven second-half tries and scored 11 in total to win with ease.

England hooker and Lions captain for the night Jamie George finished with a double as did flanker Tadhg Beirne and winger Anthony Watson.

Lions tour captain Conor Murray made an appearance off the bench in the second half but didn’t have a great night. He had a kick charged down for the Sharks’ only try of the second half and didn’t finish the game after being sent to the sin-bin.

It was the second straight game between the Lions and the Sharks after the Lions won 54-7 in Johannesburg on Wednesday. The Lions were meant to face the Bulls at Loftus but the Bulls withdrew because of coronavirus cases in their squad, and the Sharks agreed to line up against the touring team for a second time in four days.

The Lions tour moves to Cape Town, where there’s also been a schedule change because of the virus. The Lions will play domestic team the Stormers on Wednesday and South Africa A next Saturday. Those games were swapped around because of a virus outbreak in the South Africa squad, which will also provide the players for the South Africa A game.

Also on Saturday, Lions flyhalf Finn Russell was ruled out of the next three tour fixtures, which includes the first test against the Springboks on July 24, with an Achilles injury. Russell was a contender to start at No. 10 in that first test.

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