Calm before the storm as Lions return to winning ways in Cape Town

Robbie Henshaw unscathed as tourists warm up for main event with Stormers win

Marcus Smith impressed on his Lions debut in Cape Town. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Marcus Smith impressed on his Lions debut in Cape Town. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

 

Stormers 3 Lions 49

The Lions returned to winning ways with a satisfying if hardly electrifying workout against the Stormers, albeit it will hardly be any comparison to the full-on, 80 minutes of physicality and intensity which awaits them in the same stadium at the same time next Saturday.

On what Bryan Habana described at pitchside as a dewy day in Cape Town, the ball was slippery, and collectively the Lions often laboured to maintain their attacking cohesion and tempo. The first five of seven tries were scored by the forwards although by the end the Lions were running and offloading freely as they scored two tries from distance.

At least the fitness levels look good.

While not as clinical as they’ve been previously against provincial opposition, leaving several tries behind, the tourists will be happy to have restricted the home side to just one three-pointer.

Although the scrums were messy, the set-pieces were also pretty strong but this was more about how individuals went. Luke Cowan-Dickie was probalby the stand-out performer with his darts, defensive line speed, chop tackles, jackals and carrying, but Tadhg Beirne was right up there too.

Heavily involved in a couple of long-range tries he showcased his skills and awareness on the ball after a trademark early steal.

Tadhg Furlong put himself about and Jack Conan varnished another forceful, athletic performance with another Lions try. Ali Price maintained his lively form on tour, and it has to be said Marcus Smith settled in like a dream. He tackled bravely, was good on the ball, sumptuously set up one try and landed all seven conversions.

Robbie Henshaw surely proved his well-being sufficiently for an hour to ensure his place in the Tests, and it may well be with Elliot Daly, who had some nice touches to augment his left-footed kicking. Duhan van der Merwe again carried forcefully.

Being spared the last 20 was probably a good sign for Henshaw,

While there were some significant cameos off the bench, not least Mako Vunipola and Alun Wyn Jones, who put his dislocated left shoulder to the wheel and into the tackle in what was possibly a persuasive audition to captain the side next week.

For once the Lions did not score within four minutes against a provincial outfit, a sluggish start blighted by reset scrums seeing to that.

Beirne was quickly demonstrating two of his main skill sets, putting good pressure on the Stormers’ throw and then winning a trademark clear turnover in the jackal, but he was thumped backwards when receiving the ball by Neethling Fouche.

Luke Cowan-Dickie appeared to have burrowed over in the 13th minute but was pinged for a double movement before the Lions were indebuted to a muscular steal by Henshaw when Sergeal Petersen began to make inroads.

Even so, the Stormers went through an impressively secure nine phases before Hamish Watson was done for not releasing and Tim Swiel opened the scoring in the 20th minute.

The Lions couldn’t click. Stuart Hogg tidied up neatly and countered deftly, only for his loose pass to miss Josh Adams, who then lost the ball in contact.

Finally the Lions sprang into life after Beirne tidily claimed a deflected high ball, and Smith elected to move it from deep, and quick hands by Daly to release Van der Merwe for a strong charge to halfway. Beirne and Conan did well to keep the ball alive before Furlong picked and galloped clear. Beirne, involved for a third time fed Jonny Hill, and after passing long Adams, Adam Beard was then on hand from Ali Price’s pass off the recyle to score untouched.

Robbie Henshaw tracks Sergeal Petersen during the Lions’ win over the Stormers. Photograph: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty
Robbie Henshaw tracks Sergeal Petersen during the Lions’ win over the Stormers. Photograph: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty

After Cowan-Dickie won another breakdown turnover the hooker continued his eye-catching start by springing off a lineout drive to reach out for the line for an emphatic finish

The English hooker then manufactured another steal for Beirne to find Henshaw, and he pinned the Stormers on their line with a well weighted grubber. Alas, after latching onto Price’s snipe and offload, Henshaw’s own offload put Conan away.

In any case, after Price sniped again and linked with Van der Merwe, soft quick hands by Hogg put Hill over in the corner. The best of Smith’s three first-half conversions, from the touchline made it a decent 21-3 lead given the Stormers’ strong first quarter, the need for several defensive sets and that the tourists left about three tries behind.

Within minutes of the restart the Lions worked their way from their own line to the opposition’s. Smith switched and laterally from a ruck, linking with Daly on his inside for him to send Conan clear for a good finish from outside the 22.

The Lions produced another hard-working defensive set of 12 phases before marching downfield again, but this time Beirne lost control of the ball in plunging for the line after a strong carry by Mako Vunpola from a tap penalty.

By then Warren Gatland had emptied the bench, and Alun Wyn Jones showed up well twice in a bout of straight carrying and offloading with Zander Fagerson before Beirne appeared to score off Smith’s cross kick, but the try was overruled for a marginally forward offload to Hogg earlier on.

Although more bouts of lively carrying and offloading went unrewarded, eventually the pack took over again with a series of close range charges before Fagerson dived over for the fifth try.

Finally the backs struck off a scrum five metres from their own line, Smith demonstrating this is often the best place on the pitch to attack, especially against wilting opposition with a Cheslin Kolbe-like goose step, show and go to break away and give it to the speedy Louis Rees-Zammit to cruise away from hal-way.

Another followed off a counter-attack from deep, Beirne again featuring twice as he straightened the line to release van der Merwe, then take his offload off the deck and loop a pass infield for Hogg to give Sam Simmonds a clear run to the line.

Scoring sequence: 20 mins Swiel pen 3-0; 28 mins Beard try, Smith con 3-7; 34 mins Cowan-Dickie try, Smith con 3-14; 40 mins Hill try, Smith 3-21; (half-time 3-21); 50 mins Conan try, Smith con 3-28; 68 mins Fagerson try, Smith con 3-35; 74 mins Rees-Zammit try, Smith con 3-42; 78 mins Simmonds try, Smith con 3-49.

Stormers: Sergeal Petersen; Leolin Zas, Juan de Jongh, Dan du Plessis, Edwill van der Merwe; Tim Swiel, Godlen Masimla; Leon Lyons, JJ Kotze, Neethling Fouche, Ernst van Rhyn (captain), JD Schickerling, Nama Xaba, Johan du Toit, Evan Roos. Replacements: Andre-Hugo Venter for Kotze, Abner van Reenen for Swiel (both 48 mins), Marcel Theunissen for Xaba, Thomas Bursey for Zas (both 62 mins), Dian Bleuler for Lyons, Justin Basson for Roos, Cornel Smit for du Plessis (all 66 mins), Lee-Marvin Mazibuko for Fouche (67 mins).

Lions: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, Scotland); Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland); Marcus Smith (Harlequins, England), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland), Rory Sutherland (Worcester Warriors, Scotland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), Adam Beard (Ospreys, Wales), Jonny Hill (Exeter Chiefs, England), Tadhg Beirne (Munster Rugby, Ireland), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland), Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland). Replacements: Jamie George (Saracens, England) for Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England) for Sutherland (both 49 mins), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) for Furlong, Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales) for Beard (both 54 mins), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England) for Conan, Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales) for Price, Chris Harris (Gloucester Rugby, Scotland) for Henshaw, Louis Rees-Zammit (Gloucester Rugby, Wales) (all 58 mins).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

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