By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -The British & Irish Lions got their South Africa tour off to a winning start as Josh Adams scored four tries at Ellis Park on Saturday, beating their Johannesburg namesakes 56-14 in a stiff early examination against the surreal backdrop of empty stands.
Louis Rees-Zammit dotted down the first try of the tour and more came from Hamish Watson, Ali Price and Gareth Davies, all converted by Owen Farrell as the tourists overcame a spirited home side in the first of eight matches over the next six weeks.
But they had to play to the echoing sound of their own voices behind closed doors without the boisterous and numerous supporters the Lions traditionally bring on tour with them.
It ensured a flat atmosphere at the start of what is usually a much-anticipated sporting occasion as South Africa endures severe lockdown restrictions amid a third wave of COVID-19.
The home Lions, without any of the Springbok contingent, responded with tries from Vincent Tshituka and Sibhale Maxwane, converted by Jordan Hendrikse.
"I was very pleased with the energy and enthusiasm, it was a really positive start," satisfied coach Warren Gatland said.
Adams’ tries all came in the second half after the Lions went into the break 21-7 ahead but was still short of the most scored by a Lions tourist in South Africa. Winger JJ Williams managed six tries in a single game on tour in 1974.
Teenage wing Rees-Zammit got the tour off to a perfect start in the fourth minute, snatching up a clever kick over the top of the home defence from Chris Harris, swiftly followed by Watson dotting down between the poles three minutes later.
Then followed a lengthy period of tigerish defence from the visiting Lions as the hosts looked to hammer their way over but were repeatedly held at bay.
It was only seven minutes before halftime that the tourists were back on the front foot as Price sniped in for their third try.
Adams broke the line straight after halftime and ran almost half the length of the field for his first and then added three more on the left wing as the Lions began to impose themselves.
Substitute Davies also managed to score from close in as the marauding Lions crossed the line eight times in total.
But there were periods where they looked a little bedraggled and there will be work to do before the first test against the Boks on July 24.
"It's just great to finally get out here. There's a lot of work on. It was a bit scrappy at times," added man of the match Watson.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Ken Ferris)