British & Irish Lions bounce back with win against Stormers

 British & Irish Lions bounced back from their first Tour defeat with an emphatic seven-try victory against the DHL Stormers in the final match before the Test series.

South Africa A had ended the tourists’ hope of emulating the ‘Invincibles’ of 1974 in midweek but Warren Gatland’s men responded in style at Cape Town Stadium.

Tim Swiel had put the Stormers ahead in the first half before tries from Adam Beard, Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jonny Hill saw the Lions go into the break with a 21-3 advantage.

Further tries from Jack Conan, Zander Fagerson, Louis Rees-Zammit and Sam Simmonds completed the rout as debutant Marcus Smith added 14 points from the kicking tee.

Tour captain Alun Wyn Jones also put the icing on the Lions’ cake by completing his remarkable comeback from the injury he sustained against Japan with a busy 25-minute cameo.

After being sensationally called up last weekend while playing only his second game for England, Smith was handed his debut in the famous red jersey against the Stormers.

His selection capped off a memorable month for the 22-year-old, who helped orchestrate a famous Premiership title triumph for Harlequins before scoring a try on his England debut.

And he got his first touch of the ball from the kick-off, collecting a ball sent right down his throat and launching a superb 50m response to touch to ease any nerves he may have had.

He was kept largely quiet in the first quarter of the contest as the Stormers controlled territory and possession, with Swiel – who used to play for Smith’s Harlequins – kicking the first points.

But the rookie gradually found his groove as the match wore on, showing why he finished as the top points scorer in the Premiership this season with three conversions from three in the first half.

Smith’s attacking flair also came to the fore after the interval, with a superb no-look pass to Elliot Daly to unlock the Stormers defence and put Conan through for the Lions’ fourth try.

He added the conversion once again before also converting tries from Fagerson, Rees-Zammit and Simmonds to finish his first appearance in red with a perfect 100 percent record.

Gatland admitted his side were second best at the breakdown against South Africa A in midweek and stressed it was an area they would need to sharpen up ahead of the Tests.

There was evidence of the tourists taking heed of that message from the first whistle, showing much greater speed in getting to the rucks as they looked to move the ball quickly.

Tadhg Beirne was particularly busy in the opening minutes, scooping the loose ball in the ruck with his big mitts on ten minutes to launch a Lions’ attack that ultimately came to nothing.

Four turnovers in the opening 30 minutes told its own story and it was from one of those that the tourists got their first points on the board as Ali Price released Beard to score.

But it was the impact of Cowan-Dickie that stood out, with the Exeter Chiefs hooker winning two turnovers in the first half as well as scoring a try and carrying well in an industrious display.

His aggression was infectious and he carried on where he left off after the restart – throwing another dart from the lineout – before being replaced by England counterpart Jamie George.

Despite not being selected in the initial 37-man squad for the Tour, Beard has repeatedly put his hand up for the Lions since arriving as Jones’ injury replacement.

He was making his fourth consecutive Tour appearance against the Stormers, fresh from his disruptive cameo against South Africa A in midweek which earned plenty of plaudits.

That game saw Beard demonstrate his maul defence skills but the Wales lock also showed his value in attack by walking in his first try for the Lions on 27 minutes.

The 25-year-old was at the heart of the third try as well on the cusp of half-time, with his soft hands finding Stuart Hogg who in turn released Hill to crash over.

With Jones waiting in the wings to make his return from the dislocated shoulder he picked up against Japan, both Beard and Hill provided a timely reminder of their class to Gatland.

Beard eventually made way for his Wales teammate in the 54th minute, with Jones thrown straight in at the deep end with an early scrum to test that shoulder just seconds after coming on.

And the original Tour skipper showed no fear in the tackle, putting in several big hits as he proved his fitness for the tourists ahead of next weekend’s opening Test against the Springboks.

While he did not add to his five previous tries in the red jersey, Duhan van der Merwe was in the thick of the action again as the wing caused the Stormers no end of problems.

In what was a quiet game for the backs – with all but one of the Lions’ tries coming from the forwards – the Scottish powerhouse was central to everything the tourists did.

He was by far and away the Lions’ most effective runner with the ball in hand, travelling 100 metres with ease as he repeatedly shook off the attempted tackles of the Stormers.

Van der Merwe finished the 80 minutes with 138 metres from ten carries while also beating nine defenders, topping the charts for the Lions in all three of those categories.

It was a display that will make it very hard for Gatland not to select him for the first Test, with the question now seemingly who will take the spot on the other wing and at fullback.

Rees-Zammit will certainly be in the conversation after being the beneficiary of a classy Smith goose-step and break, with the Wales winger stepping on the gas to score the Lions’ sixth.

And skipper Hogg put down his marker in the closing stages for the No.15 shirt, providing another try assist on his return to the side to hand Chiefs teammates Simmonds his first Lions try.

Story courtesy/ Lions

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