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Warren Gatland admits he has big calls to make after Lions’ storming success

Stormers 3-49 British and Irish Lions

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Stormers' Tim Swiel tackles Josh Adams of the British & Irish Lions.

Stormers' Tim Swiel tackles Josh Adams of the British & Irish Lions.

©INPHO/Billy Stickland

British & Irish Lions' Jonny Hill scores a try.

British & Irish Lions' Jonny Hill scores a try.

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

British & Irish Lions' Louis Rees-Zammit runs in a try.

British & Irish Lions' Louis Rees-Zammit runs in a try.

©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Adam Beard of the British & Irish Lions breaks through to score the first try during the match against Stormers

Adam Beard of the British & Irish Lions breaks through to score the first try during the match against Stormers

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Stormers' Tim Swiel tackles Josh Adams of the British & Irish Lions.

No bumps on the road this time though, in fairness, there was little enough expectation surrounding the Stormers’ ability to derail, or indeed seriously discomfort, the tourists.

And that, apart from an uneasy enough opening half hour, was pretty much how this narrative unfolded in Cape Town for the British and Irish Lions’ final warm-up game ahead of Saturday’s first Test.

Indeed, the main takeaway was always going to surround its context in the tour, namely this game being Warren Gatland’s last look prior to picking the Test side.

Obviously then for a fair smattering of yesterday’s selection the critical thing was to make a lasting impression. As it turned out, quite a few did in this fairly straightforward seven-try victory.

None more so than Tadhg Beirne, who put in a hugely impressive shift over the full 80 minutes with support plays, turnovers and tackles – he even had a try scrubbed out – all now surely earning him a Test place.

Fellow Irishman Robbie Henshaw also came through strongly for his first game in South Africa, due to a previous hamstring issue, though whether he starts at 12 or 13 remains a conundrum.

Big games were also on the agenda for Tadhg Furlong and try-scorer Luke Cowan-Dickie, while Hamish Watson was busy in defence.

And then there was a certain Alun Wyn Jones. The tour skipper was prominent after only arriving last week following his dislocated shoulder, though Gatland now has a huge call to make over him making the Test starting side after last night’s second-half appearance off the bench.

Speculation will be fevered as to whether the Wales veteran is ready to be included in the plans to take on the World Cup holders, though there can be no question over the value of his leadership.

Not surprisingly, Gatland was in no mood for giving any clues.

“It was a good hit-out for Alun Wyn so I’ll have a chat with him and see how he fared, see how the lungs are, and we’ll sit down over the next few days and think about the Test team,” the Lions head coach said.

“There is going to be some serious debate,” he added over what looks sure to be a difficult selection process regarding the composition of the Test 23, never mind whether Jones is part of it.

Out-half Marcus Smith also had a prominent debut, kicking all seven conversions and being involved in several scores, while Ali Price may well put pressure on Conor Murray.

As well as Jones, other subs who caught the eye included Mako Vunipola, Chris Harris and Louis Rees-Zammit.

However Gatland plays this, the Lions will have to match Springbok physicality as was seen during last week’s defeat to South Africa ‘A’ which, of course, was more like the hosts’ full Test side and even featured Rassie Erasmus as an overactive water-carrier on the sideline.

Addressing the overall display over the Stormers in the tour’s final non-Test game, Gatland was pleased with what he had witnessed.

“It was a good hit-out for us and I was really pleased with the performance,” he said. “For the first 20 minutes the Stormers threw everything at us which is what you would expect when any team plays the Lions. We got our composure and I was really pleased with the second half and the guys who came off the bench.”

The tourists, after a less than assured opening which resulted in the Stormers scoring first via a penalty – the South Africans’ only points of the contest – led 21-3 when the teams changed ends after well-worked tries delivered by Adam Beard, Cowan-Dickie and Jonny Hill.

Beard’s was the pick of the bunch after the Lions attacked off turnover ball with Beirne and Furlong playing leading roles.

Jack Conan surged through for the first try of the new half and was followed by Zander Fagerson, Rees-Zammit and Sam Simmonds.

Now the really serious stuff begins.

Lions: S Hogg, J Adams, E Daly, R Henshaw, D van der Merwe, M Smith, A Price; R Sutherland, L Cowan-Dickie, T Furlong, A Beard, J Hill, T Beirne, H Watson, J Conan. Subs: J George for Cowan-Dickie 48mins, M Vunipola for Sutherland 48mins, Z Fagerson for Furlong 53mins, A-W Jones for Beard 53mins, S Simmonds for Conan 57mins, G Davies for Price 57mins, C Harris for Henshaw 57mins, L Rees-Zammit for Adams 57mins

Referee: W Barnes (Eng)


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