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Conan among the tries as Lions finish Test build-up with win over Stormers

Tadhg Beirne also impressed as the tourists racked up a 49-3 victory.

Stormers 3

Lions 49

IT WASN’T CLOSE to the contest we saw between the Lions and South Africa A on Wednesday, but the Lions will be largely satisfied with what they got from this final warm-up game before the Test series against the Boks.

jack-conan-scores-a-try Jack Conan crosses for the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Try-scoring number eight Jack Conan was among the impressive performers in what was the final audition for a place in Warren Gatland’s first Test team, with hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie particularly outstanding against the Stormers before departing in the 48th minute.

Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw got through 57 minutes of action on his return from a hamstring injury and while he wasn’t able to light up this game, there were some nice involvements.

Gatland also welcomed the return of tour captain Alun Wyn Jones, who looked energetic and motivated in his 26-minute cameo off the bench. Now Gatland needs to decide if the 35-year-old is ready for a Test start.

He also perhaps has more of a headache at scrum-half than he himself might have predicted. Scotland’s Ali Price was creative again, although he doesn’t have Conor Murray’s experience or kicking quality. It is an important call for Gatland now.

Meanwhile, Tadhg Beirne had another excellent outing at blindside flanker for the Lions, winning turnovers and showing his high skill level around the pitch as always. He is firmly in the mix for a start in a Test back row that is very difficult to call.

Conan has done as much as he could have to put his hand up at number eight, where the experienced Taulupe Faletau has long been the Test favourite.

It would be a surprise if he has any Test involvement, but Gatland would also have been pleased to see 22-year-old out-half Marcus Smith provide some classy moments in the same week he arrived in South Africa.

tadhg-furlong-makes-a-break Tadhg Furlong breaks for the Lions. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Beirne stood out in a scrappy opening quarter as he brought lineout pressure and won a clean breakdown turnover just outside the Lions’ 22, but the tourists had frustration down the other end of the pitch.

Twice in the Stormers half, they were penalised for the ball-carrier’s second movement on the ground after being tackled, the second of those decisions from referee Wayne Barnes ruling out a possible Cowan-Dickie try after he tapped a five-metre penalty.

The Stormers responded with pressure of their own and though Henshaw produced a strip turnover in his own 22, the South Africans soon earned a penalty when Hamish Watson was pinged for hands in the ruck and out-half Tim Swiel opening the scoring off the tee.

The Lions were shaky in the following minutes – Stuart Hogg offloading forward into touch, Josh Adams knocking-on, and Rory Sutherland giving up a scrum penalty – but they finally sparked into life with a fluid 29th-minute try.

Beirne snaffled a loose ball near the Lions’ 22 and quick hands, notably from Elliot Daly, allowed Duhan van der Merwe to burst up the left. After a neat Beirne offload, Tadhg Furlong picked and snuck through a gap for a big linebreak. The ball was flashed wide right to Adams and as the Lions came back off the touchline, Price picked Beard running a clever line to send him over.

adam-beard-runs-in-a-try Adam Beard runs in a Lions try. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Cowan-Dickie’s growing influence included a clean jackal turnover and his try off the back of a 10-metre maul. In the latter instance, Furlong helped to create an opening for the England hooker to burst clear and finish emphatically.

Cowan-Dickie had another breakdown steal before the break and the Lions finished the half in flowing fashion as Price sniped and offloaded, laying the platform for smooth handling from Beard and Hogg to send lock Jonny Hill over in the left corner.

Smith’s three conversions meant the Lions had a 21-3 lead at the break and while the Stormers enjoyed possession and territory early in the second half, but Gatland’s men extended their lead in the 50th minute.

It was a clever three-phase lineout strike this time as the Lions swung back to their left for Smith to play an inside pass to Daly, who offloaded for Conan to show his athleticism to finish from well outside the 22.

Jones soon made his much-anticipated return from the bench and was able to test out his left shoulder with a series of tackles as the Lions defended. He appeared to enjoy the task.

ali-price Ali Price had some good moments for the Lions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Beirne thought he had his name on the scoresheet as the game entered the final quarter when a flowing passage of attack featuring multiple Lions offloads and a big influence from Jones ended with Smith’s cross-field kick bouncing up to the Irish flanker.

Unfortunately, the TMO review showed a forward pass and the score was chalked off.

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Gatland’s side had their fifth just minutes later, however, as replacement tighthead Zander Fagerson powered over on the end of a series of powerful close-range phases from the Lions pack.

Smith brilliantly created the next Lions try from under his own posts, a sublime goose step and acceleration taking him away into the Stormers half, where he fed replacement wing Rees-Zammit for a straightforward finish.

The final score was a pleasing on as Beirne featured twice down the left, offloading inside with his second touch to help free sub number eight Sam Simmonds to dot down under the posts.

Stormers scorers:

Penalties: Tim Swiel [1 from 1]

Lions scorers:

Tries: Adam Beard, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill, Jack Conan, Zander Fagerson, Louis Rees-Zammit, Sam Simmonds

Conversions: Marcus Smith [6 from 6]

STORMERS: Sergeal Petersen; Leolin Zas (Thomas Bursey ’71), Juan de Jongh, Dan du Plessis (Cornel Smit ’65), Edwill van der Merwe; Tim Swiel, Godlen Masimla; Leon Lyons (Dian Bleuler ’65), JJ Kotze (Andre-Hugo Venter ’48), Neethling Fouche (Lee-Marvin Mazibuko ’66); Ernst van Rhyn (captain), JD Schickerling; Nama Xaba (Marcel Theunissen ’61), Johan du Toit, Evan Roos (Justin Basson ’65).

LIONS: Stuart Hogg (captain); Josh Adams (Louis Rees-Zammit ’58), Elliot Daly, Robbie Henshaw (Chris Harris ’58), Duhan van der Merwe; Marcus Smith, Ali Price (Gareth Davies ’58); Rory Sutherland (Mako Vunipola ’48), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Jamie George ’48), Tadhg Furlong (Zander Fagerson ’54); Adam Beard (Alun Wyn Jones ’54), Jonny Hill; Tadhg Beirne, Hamish Watson, Jack Conan (Sam Simmonds ’58).

Referee: Wayne Barnes.

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Murray Kinsella

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