British & Irish Lions 28-10 Japan: Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric injuries overshadow Murrayfield win

·3-min read
Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder against Japan (Getty Images)
Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones suffered a suspected dislocated shoulder against Japan (Getty Images)

The British and Irish Lions coasted to a routine win over Japan at Murrayfield, but a little gloss was removed by the early departures of captain Alun Wyn Jones and Justin Tipuric ahead of their flight to South Africa on Sunday.

The good news is that the Lions put in a pretty slick showing, scoring four tries and never looking in trouble. There were various promising performances, particularly from Irish players, with No8 Jack Conan and centre Bundee Aki superb. Robbie Henshaw and Tadhg Beirne were among the scorers.

Victory never looked in doubt, as betrayed by the Lions happily finishing the game with 14 men when they had run out of replacements and wanted to take Conan off. Jones was forced from the field after eight minutes with a suspected dislocated left shoulder that could end his tour, which would be a sickening blow for both player and team.

Certainly coach Warren Gatland would be left with some very difficult decisions if Jones’s injury was serious, although he looked comfortable enough when joining his team-mates in the stands after half-time. Tipuric – competing with Tom Curry and the concussed Hamish Watson for the Test No7 jersey – followed 15 minutes later, having also suffered a shoulder injury.

This was the Lions’ first ‘home’ fixture since 2005, and they received a warm welcome from a crowd of 16,500 that appeared to largely be made up of Scottish and English supporters. The atmosphere was terrific, although some boos rang out when the PA announcer revealed that the bars would be closing shortly before half-time.

Lions legend and assistant coach Gregor Townsend predicted that this would be the toughest opener the Lions had ever played, given Japan’s status as World Cup quarter-finalists (at his Scotland team’s expense).

The visitors came with all their fizzing attacking intent, but lacked their usual accuracy. But having not played a competitive fixture themselves since the 2019 World Cup, Japan had the feel of a scratch team too. There were moments of magic from the great Kotaro Matsushima, and they grew into the game (scoring in the second half through sub Kazuki Himeno), but the crack and sparkle will take a little longer to return.

It was peculiar, though, to see them take shots at goal when they won penalties in the final quarter. Like all Japan games, this one was played at good pace, even if it lacked intensity. Despite losing two men to injury, the Lions had coasted into a 21-0 lead by the 23rd minute, with three-quarters of their three-quarters crossing for tries.

Josh Adams scored the first try of the tour on the right, before the busy Duhan van der Merwe opportunistically popped up in the same corner, with the Scottish crowd delighted by their adopted son’s score.

Henshaw crossed from close range to score shortly after; his chemistry with Aki – a partnership since their Connacht days – was evident throughout. Japan improved in the second quarter, and the score remained 21-0 at half-time.

After the break, the Lions had a score chalked off when Courtney Lawes – on for Jones – knocked on while grounding. Moments later, Beirne ran in from 30 metres for the best of the tries. Dan Biggar, who had an excellent game, added the extras again.

The game became disjointed as both sides rung the changes, with Japan pulling 10 points back and dominating possession and territory. The Lions had lost a little flow as the game wore on, but will have been quite content to travel with a win under their belts.

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