The British and Irish Lions got back to winning ways in their second clash with the Stomers on Saturday, triumphing 49-3 in the clash in Cape Town.
It was head coach Warren Gatland’s final chance to run the rule over his team before the Test series against South Africa gets underway next Saturday.
As well as being a convincing win, the match saw the return of Alun Wyn Jones to action after injury and Marcus Smith make his Lions bow, with those and other talking points among the subjects covered by Sky Sports‘ pundits in the aftermath…
O’Gara: Lions must not ‘crush’ Smith
Just a week after receiving a surprise call-up to the Lions squad as cover at fly-half, Marcus Smith was put into action against the Stormers and produced an assured display.
But while former Lions No. 10 Ronan O’Gara felt the Harlequins player showed plenty of potential and could well be first choice for the 2025 tour to Australia, the Irish great feels it would not be right to put him in for the Tests against South Africa.
“I thought he was smart, challenging and decisive, trusted his instincts, but also played to the game plan,” O’Gara said. “I think you are looking at the Lions’ Test starter on the next tour, but probably for this tour…he has not been put in a cauldron.
“You cannot crush this guy. The game against the Stormers to next Saturday is poles apart – it’s of no relevance. Yes, he’s excelled in everything, but your first 10 caps as a young player are a whirlwind. You do not really remember them, you become better as No. 10 with experience.
“This guy is frighteningly good and has a massive future ahead of him but looking to start him next weekend would not be correct based on the good work the other No. 10s in the squad have done.”
Alphonsi: Jones back to fitness, but wouldn’t start first Test
Barely three weeks after suffering a dislocated shoulder in the match against Japan at Murrayfield, original tour captain Alun Wyn Jones was back in action for the Lions as he came off the bench as a replacement for compatriot Adam Beard.
Maggie Alphonsi felt Wales captain Jones showed there should be no concerns over his fitness, although the 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup winner erred on the side of caution when it came to whether he should start the first Test against the Springboks.
“We did not see a large amount from him, but I think the key thing is he got through the game,” Alphonsi said. “He came on and you could see he really wanted to get himself involved; a couple of times he got his left shoulder in just for the sake of making a hit to show he’s Test ready.
“You felt when he came onto the pitch, people were already asking him questions and he just settled the team down. Based on what we saw today, I think he’s shown he is fit and capable because he got himself involved.
“What’s going to happen now is it’s going to create a bit of a selection dilemma. He has not necessarily shown himself what a good second row should be, but he’s fit and he’s a leader and he will take control of that team potentially in the first Test.
“I think it’s really hard, but he would not be in my Test team based on today.”
Warburton: Lions must keep offloading game at the forefront
Sam Warburton has been particularly impressed with the Lions’ offloading game during this tour and saw more evidence of that in the win over the Stormers, citing the way Elliot Daly set up Jack Conan’s try, and believes that will be crucial for them in the series against South Africa.
“What’s impressive is when they are offloading from the floor or looking for options inside 10 or when Ali Price was making defenders make decisions,” Warburton said.
“I think the willingness to look for the offload post-contact is something I have definitely seen on this tour so far. The Lions did that in spades against the Stormers, but the difficult thing is when you play against South Africa who will be a lot more physical in defence it is harder to offload.
“That’s why, next Saturday, they have got to be dominant in their carry and be able to have the offload. You cannot offload going backwards, you have still got to be going forwards.”
McGeechan: Winning the battle of the breakdown vital
Sir Ian McGeechan picked out the work the Lions did at the breakdown to create space to attack in against the Stormers and cautioned they must be at their best on both sides of the ball in next week’s Test, particularly in defence if they are to contain the danger posed by South Africa scrum-half Faf de Klerk.
“Faf de Klerk is so important to them because of the space they create in the first two channels either side of the ruck and that’s what the Lions have to stop,” McGeechan said.
“That’s what Price was so good at today because it holds the defence in then creates space for either the running lines inside him as Van der Merwe went or just outside him when Hill scored his try.
“The importance of those breakdowns and just clearing a space so that ball becomes available really early allows options at the breakdown.”
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