THE build-up to the British and Irish Lions’ second tour game of South Africa may have been as chaotic as the off-field circumstances surrounding the campaign, but the result was reassuringly familiar.

Warren Gatland’s charges – having endured a day in which they didn’t know the fixture would go on until just over two hours before an extended kick off, and no less than eight Covid-19 enforced changes to their match day squad – almost went through the motions in putting 54 points past a game but ultimately outclassed Sharks team last night.

Playing at the altitude of Johannesburg supposedly not to break a bio-bubble that has sprung more leaks than a sieve in the last few days, the Lions still found themselves having to countenance the disruption eight changes after two positive tests were found in their ranks.

“It was quite surreal and it’s been a real challenge,” said Gatland later. “We didn’t get the [fresh round of test] results back until 5.30pm and the staff and players were in their rooms until six o’clock this evening [for an 8pm start].

“We then had to make a few changes but we’re incredibly proud of the performance, the players and how they adjusted, and how the staff worked so hard today. I came away today thinking I was proud, more than the performance, of the togetherness of the group.”

While the changes meant an unprecedented 7-1 split on the bench, with Scotland’s Finn Russell the lone back, the visitors somehow mustered something approaching fluency in their play, scoring eight tries to the Sharks’ lone consolation effort despite finishing the game with 13 men (wingers Duhan van der Merwe and Louis Rees-Zammit had to cry off with tightening hamstrings).

Six of those tries went to hat-tricks by Scotland’s South African import winger Van der Merwe and the glutinous Josh Adams (whose three tries took him to seven in just two games on tour), and one apiece to Bundee Aki and Rees-Zammit.

“Our message to the players was let’s use this as a positive, look at it as whatever’s thrown at us we can deal with it because nothing’s going to faze us,” continued Gatland. “We were in a situation where we weren’t in control of things and just had to go with the flow and adjust – we’ve talked about if the team should be in a situation of chaos we need to adapt and change.”

Van der Merwe’s man of the match haul was helped as much by the Lions’ ability to find their outside backs space as it was by the hosts’ strange decision to swap their wingers – the physical Werner Kok and the slight Thaakir Abrahams – around, meaning the latter faced the big, powerful and fast Scot.

With a size differential of 19cm and 29kg, Abrahams looked as hapless as the 10-year-old run over by England Prime Minister Boris Johnson a couple of years ago as he was brushed aside by the brute from George to open his account.

Welshman Adams appears to be taking to the field with a GPS, such has his happy knack for being at the right place at the right time been.

As plucky as the hosts – who ran onto the field to the Getting Strong Now song from Rocky – were, Van der Merwe’s muscular hat-trick wasn’t the only example of the game being a case of men against boys.

With their physicality in contact occupying for Sharks than should have been the case, the net effect was a narrowing of the hosts’ defence and an opening of opportunities out wide. Coupled with the intensity and searing tempo at which the Lions were playing, the Sharks – themselves not a Highveld team – had no hope.

The scrums initially sprang a surprise with Billy Vunipola coughing up two penalties against his opposite number Khutha Mchunu, but the moment he set that record straight in the 37th minute with a penalty of his own the Lions scrum never found a reverse gear again.

The Sharks, having lost their specialist caller Hyron Andrews as early as the ninth minute to a head knock, found themselves under constant pressure from the Lions, who either forced them to tap on their own ball or had their attempted lineout drive stopped dead.

And to cap off the dominant performance, the visitors – led by the thieving loose-trio Sam Simmonds, Josh Navidi and Tom Curry – either rendered the hosts’ ball at the rucks shop-soiled goods or just plain stolen.

At no stage can the Sharks be said to have gone away in the contest despite the obvious mismatch – and they did have their moments but repeatedly undermined them with forced and unforced errors in the red zone – but every time they had ball in hand they were quickly enveloped by a red blanket of Lions defenders whose lightning line-speed often hinted at a false start out the blocks.

Off-side or not, Gatland’s lot passed the resilience test on what turned out to be a red letter day.