Stormers v Lions: tourists sign-off provincial schedule with another comfortable win

Some big decisions need to be made by the selection panel as the Lions reach the business end of the tour

Ireland's Tadhg Beirne and Scotland’s Ali Price both impressed in the Lions' final provincial hit-out against the Stormers. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Ireland's Tadhg Beirne and Scotland’s Ali Price both impressed in the Lions' final provincial hit-out against the Stormers. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Stomers 3

Lions 49

IT wasn’t quite the walk in the park that the final score-line suggests, but the Lions had too much individual class against a tenacious Stormers outfit in the first half, and too much fitness for their opponents after the break, which saw them ultimately sign-off on the build-up section of this tour with another comfortable win.

Now we wait to see who is selected by head coach Warren Gatland and his coaching panel for next Saturday’s first Test. Seven Scots are in contention – Finn Russell isn’t expected to be fit until the second Test due to a minor Achilles tear– and they each had a final chance to push their case in this match.

Stuart Hogg and Duhan van der Merwe were both busy in the back three, but did they do enough? As Gatland has said on a number of occasions, the competition in the back-three is ferocious and will perhaps provide the greatest selection angst. Much will depend on how quickly Liam Williams comes through his return-to-play-protocols following the concussion he suffered on Wednesday. The Welshman is brilliant under the high ball and the aerial battle is going to be huge next weekend. Josh Adams (eight tries on tour so far) and Anthony Watson are also serious contenders, while Louis Rees-Zammitt gave a reminder of the threat he offers with his well taken breakaway try. It is conceivable that the two Scotland players will start, with Hogg as captain, and just as conceivable that they don’t make the match-day squad at all.


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Chris Harris came off the bench for the final 22 minutes and looked typically composed in both attack and defence. His solidity and work-rate in the middle of the park, complemented by an attacking edge which wasn’t immediately obvious during the early part of his international career, means that the 30-year-old should be in the No13 jersey if the Test team is selected on form, alongside Robbie Henshaw at 12. but Gatland may be tempted to play Henshaw in his best position of outside-centre and hope that Owen Farrell can rediscover his mojo in the inside-centre slot.

Ali Price bustled effectively at scrum-half and is breathing right down Conor Murray’s neck, if he hasn’t already overtaken the Irishman, although Gatland did express some disappointment afterwards that a few of the Scot’s box-kicks were not as contestable as the Lions need them to be against the Springboks.

In the pack, the scrum was a mess which meant Rory Sutherland couldn’t assert his dominance, but he remains the best option at loose-head in the squad.

Zander Fagerson scored a try during his 26 minutes at the end and will always contribute plenty in the loose but usurping Tadhg Furlong was a huge ask and he hasn’t really had a chance to get close to doing that. The question is whether Kyle Sinckler‘s hot run of form, which was sparked by his initial exclusion from this tour, will see him claim the bench spot.

A lot of nonsense has been said and written about Hamish Watson being too small to take on the Springboks. He’s nine kilos lighter than Tom Curry, his chief rival for the number seven jersey, but that doesn’t really matter because it is about power not bulk. There is an argument for picking both Curry and Watson in the first Test if making sure the Lions look after their own ball is the priority ahead of trying to snaffle the opposition’s ball. That might leave the Lions light at line-out but would give the Springboks a few headaches elsewhere. If Gatland goes with only one loosie then Watson should get the nod having produced another impressive, all-action performance against the Stormers.

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It was a scrappy first quarter and the game was 17 minutes old before either line was really threatened, when a series of penalties conceded by the Stormers allowed the Lions to rumble their way into the red zone, and just as they did on Wednesday the tourists ended up going for the close-range tap, with a similar outcome – this time hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie was called for double-movement.

Instead, it was the Stormers who drew first blood when Tim Swiel kicked the points afterWatson was penalised chasing a turnover on the deck.

Finally, things clicked for the Lions just before the half-hour mark, when Tadhg Beirne pinched possession inside his own 22 and the ball was quickly transferred across the park forvan der Merwe to lead the breakout up the left touchline. The big winger got to about halfway, then Furlong thundered clear from the base of a ruck in the middle of the park, Adam Beard carried it on, the ball swung right toAdamsand then returned in-field for Beard to canter home unchallenged.

Lions stretched further ahead a few minutes later when the Lions worked a line-out maul in field and opened up the space for the irrepressible Cowan-Dickie to rampage in from 15 yards.

The tourists finished the half with a flourish with Price sparking things from scrum-half, van der Merwe carrying hard in heavy traffic, and Hogg delivering the scoring pass to Jonny Hill.

Marcus Smith‘s inside pass to Elliot Daly opened Stormers up and Jack Conan took full advantage with a 25-yard run-in for try number four after 10 minutes of the second half.

That prompted a bench clearance for the Lions and the game became a bit disjointed until a sweeping attack saw Beirne romp in unchallenged on the right, only for the score to be chalked off because of a forward pass from van der Merwe to Hogg earlier in the move.

One of the new faces on the park was Alun Wyn Jones, completing his remarkable Lazarus-style comeback just 21 days after dislocating his shoulder during the Lions’ pre-tour match against Japan at Murrayfield. The talismanic Welshman was clearly determined to prove his fitness and threw himself into a succession of thunderous challenges.

The Stormers were beginning to tyre and some more powerful forward play culminated inFagerson burrowing over, having replaced Furlong at tight-head prop 15 minutes earlier.

Smith was making his Lions debut and the 22-year-old stand-off made it clear that he hasn’t flown out to South Africa just to fill a gap in the team for this match, registering an assured and inventive all-round performance, goal-kicking immaculately, and polishing it off by launching an audacious attack from inside his own 22 with Waisale Serevi style goose-step, which sent Louis Rees-Zammitt in for try number six.

Try number seven came down the track just a few minutes later when Beirne, van der Merwe and Hogg combined up the left touchline for Sam Simmonds to finish off.

Meanwhile, a South Africa ‘A’ lost 17-14 to the Vodacom Bulls at Cape Town Stadium earlier this [Saturday] afternoon in their final hit-out before the start of the Test series. There was 12 changes to the side which defeated the Lions on Wednesday, and head Jacques Nienaber was philosophical about the performance and result, whilst clearly hoping that it will be the jolt his players need ahead of next Saturday.

“The result was not what we had hoped for, but a number of questions were answered, especially with regards to the readiness of individual players and their readiness for selection,” he said.

“I wanted the guys to stake a claim for selection for next week’s Test and unfortunately, not everyone did that, but I am not going to discuss individuals – any comments on them will be emotional, because we are hurting.

“As a team, the performance was not there, and I blame myself for that as well. The lack of dominance from our pack was not what we had expected. With the late confirmation of the game, we also did not do any analysis on the Bulls and that showed, while I did expect a better set-piece platform.

“The Bulls were good and desperate, and they showed how much they wanted it. The disappointing part is that they wanted it more as a team.”

 

Teams –

Stormers: S Petersen; S Senatla (T Bursey 62), J de Jongh, D du Plessis (C Smit 66), E van der Merwe; T Swiel (A van Reenen 66), G Masimla; L Lyons (D Bleuler 66), J Kotze (A Venter 59), N Fouche (L Mazibuko 70), E van Rhyn, J Schickerling, N Xaba, J du Toit, E Roos (J Basson 66).

Lions: S Hogg; J Adams (L Rees-Zammit 58), E Daly, R Henshaw (C Harris 58), D van der Merwe; M Smith, A Price (G  Davies 58); R Sutherland (M Vunipola 49), L Cowan-Dickie (J George 49), T Furlong (Z Fagerson 54), A Beard (A Jones 54), J Hill, T Beirne, H Watson, J Conan (S Simmonds 58).

 

Scorers –

Stormers: Pen: Swiel

Lions: Ties: Beard, Cowan-Dickie, Hill, Conan, Fagerson, Rees-Zammitt, Simmonds; Con: Smith 7.

Scoring sequence (Stormers first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 3-12; 3-14; 3-19; 3-21 (h-t) 3-26; 3-28; 3-33; 3-35; 3-40; 3-42; 3-47; 3-49;


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About David Barnes 2476 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

10 Comments

  1. My concern is that too many pundits are obsessed with past reputations rather than current form, but time has moved on. This is 2021, not 2017 – and a lot has happened since, not least the shifting balance of power in the Six Nations. It’s been great to have the Scots involved once more and the presence of Toonie and Tandy at the heart of it all is testament to what they have achieved with the Scottish team of late. But it must translate into Scottish involvement in the test matches. Gatland says that the selection discussions will be robust, which suggests they are not necessarily of one mind and the battle for places in the breakaways and back three will be fierce. Ironically given he was not seen by the management as a starter, I think the Scottish player with the best chance based on form – his and his rivals – is Ali Price, whose service has been consistently sharp. Murray by contrast has been mince and I hope he is not given a place to save face, for he was a ridiculous choice as replacement tour captain in the first place. Sutherland must be fancying his chances, quite rightly, while I have not lost hope for the Mish, who is at least worth a place on the bench if they go for Curry. Bu the elephant in the room is the relative weakness in that vital 10-12-13 axis. Farrell has been poor, Biggar battling a niggle that has meant little recent game time and Smith has never played against a top tier nation, which is a huge step up. What a shame Finn is not available – and to those who criticise him, all I can say is you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. No obvious choices at centre other than Henshaw and I wouldn’t be surprised if Harris gets the slot outside him, for both bring beef and defensive strength aplenty. Eliot Daly? Not for me. VDM has had a great tour and I am sick of those who whinge about his defence. He’s done extremely well, eating up the ground and beating opponents with speed, power and elusiveness. He also makes tries for others and there’s so much more to him than some are prepared to see. If he doesn’t get in, he won’t be far away. Ironically I reckon Hogg will miss out if VDM gets the nod, for Ant Watson will move to full back. But our lad won’t be far away – possibly the bench and maybe an appearance in one of the other two tests.

  2. I think one of the positive things to come out of the tour is that the Scots have justified their selection with good performances. Whether they get picked for the tests or not, Price, Harris, Van Der Merwe, Sutherland and Watson have all played well in the games they have played, sometimes outstanding. Hogg and Russell have been unlucky with injury and isolation, but they have both clearly been good tourists as well. Perhaps Zander Fagerson has not quite shown his best form yet, but I think he is coming into form, and he is the youngest of our players selected so in many ways his big test opportunity may well be in 4 years time.

  3. The most worrying factor for me is Warren Gatland’s comment after the game, “some of those guys out there were playing their last game on tour”. With Gatland’s preponderance to select players ‘he knows’ and a previous Welsh bias and with all our lads bar Russell on the field I have a certain amount of trepidation.
    It’s not what I want to see, but, for my money there are too many 50-50’s and on that basis Gatland will revert to his default and select a siege mentality team and bench even though that isn’t the Lions best chance, I would suggest: a fast pace game would be the call from GT but listening to the media pundits it would not surprise me to see the best our lads get is a seat on the bench.
    I look forward to being proven wrong for my negativity.

  4. I’m hoping the head coach and selection panel keep their own counsel rather than listen to Matt Dawson or everyone on Sky Sports.

    Someone being “a Test Match Animal” seems to be a euphemism for having a big name but indifferent form.

    Farrell (a red card waiting to happen) and Conor Murray (allergic to tempo) are world class but not the best in their position on current form. Price and Harris should 100% be in that test team on merit.

    Anthony Watson and Tom Curry are in great form, but even then, their past records are held up as reasons why Hogg and Hamish should be edged out.

    Jack Conan and T Bierne deserve their chance too but would any of us be shocked if Navidi and Faletau come in?

    I accept the logic of DVM being less good than his peers under the highball but he’s such a point of difference off the bench he’s well worth a place as Plan B.

    Finally, if Rory S is overlooked for Mako Vunipola that will be more than a tad disappointing. Mako has one run and the Sky commentary team need to go for a lie down, such is their excitement. We’d be fools to forget that the Boks are all about set-piece domination and brutality. We need a front-row that can scrum.

    We’ll see. Gatland is a man not afraid to shoot the odd sacred cow so we may yet have something to smile (and probably chuckle) about come the first test.

    I’m still not over the novelty of actually feeling included for the first time in a couple of decades.

    12
      • It’s slightly depressing that we’re all thinking it. But, we’ll see. Gatland wasn’t afraid to drop Warburton and B’OD, so if he goes largely on reputation, not form, he’d likely not be shy to change tack for the second test.

        If I see one more Sky pundit-picked team without any Scots (but apparently they’re all 50/50 calls)…it’s just tedious.

        Big fingers crossed for Steve Tandy and Gregor Townsend’s systems coming out on top. That insight could be the great gain of the whole tour. I’d never bet my life on Scotland winning the 6 Nations but it’s invaluable experience and we’d be daft to believe that won’t be fruitful for Scotland.

    • Good points – I suspect unfortunately Gatland for the XV will prefer Williams if fit to Hogg, Adams to VDM, and go for A. Watson as the back 3. Murray instead of Price, why because Price looks the form SH. Harris might get the nod as a starter but Gatland might prefer 2 from 3 of Aki/Henderson/Daly although Daly is more of a ‘gap filler’ for injuries, even Hamish Watson isn’t safe according to some [not me].
      Sutherland and Fergusson both ‘pinged’ at their first scrimmage test and regardless of following efforts those aspects stay in the memory, especially as the next selection is for the Test team.
      Although VDM and Hogg did well Hogg looked, not surprisingly, as if he would have benefited from an earlier return to playing: VDM looked 50-50 with Adams, mind you Adams mind seemed to be back in Wales at times, unsurprisingly. And then there is Russell, will Gatland risk him on the bench, I don’t think so but if he has cover for Biggar and Russell isn’t fit then I would take a punt on Marcus Smith, it was only the Stormers and he looked assured but ‘but’ is the way in for Farrell on the bench next Saturday.
      Time will tell if but I don’t think the Lions will out-muscle the Boks they need to run them ragged and I don’t see the likes of Murray, Farrell etc doing that anytime soon.
      Thankfully I am not a selector only an ‘Alickadoo’ leaning on the metaphorical Bar [supping an actual wee nippy sweetie] that is the comments column on the excellent Offsideline website.

  5. Another really good game from Price, I would have to agree with Gatland his only weakness is his box kicking , it generally goes to far for the chaser. That said he has been impressive in speed of getting to the break down and moving the ball on. The first Beard try was created by Price, lovely timed pass straight to where Beard was going to be.
    My other comment is relating to Hogg particularly as captain, am I the only person noticing that for almost all the back’s tries when he plays he is with the player crossing the line at their side almost, and often first to congratulate them.
    As for the endless speculation of who is in our out , lets wait till next week. It might be interesting as to how many injuries occur in the first test and then what the 2nd test squad looks like. Also will Gatland risk changes for subsequent tests, who knows. Finally a fine debut for young Smith, remember when that 23 year old snapper Carter came on against the Lions, would he risk it , but is he worse than Farrell or Biggar who have not impressed so far.
    There are whole raft of interesting calls and selections to be made.

    5
    2
    • No Router Al I was pointing it out at the time-though remember virtually all the tries were in fact by forwards! Hogg game the scoring passes to both Hill (in the blink of an eye) and Simmonds .And as you say was “on the premises” nearby for virtually every score-on another day he might have had 3/4 tries.But,of course, not a word of praise/comment from the Sky pundits.As we kow up here had it been Farrell or Williams they’d have been salivating.
      I think the greatest comfort we can take from the tour is that irrespective of test selection all our players know that match up perfectly well with the best in Britain/Ireland.

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