5 things we learned as the Lions won their last warm-up match
The British and Irish Lions completed their warm-up programme by beating the Stormers 49-3 in Cape Town on Saturday.
Here the PA news agency looks at five things we learned from their last match before the series against South Africa begins.
Possibly only two players are inked into the starting Test team – Maro Itoje and Josh Adams – in the Lions’ most open selection race of the professional era. Warren Gatland faces a host of tough decisions and this can be viewed in one of two ways. Either the competition is so fierce that it is hard to nail down a XV, or alternatively few players have done enough to demand selection. Whether the wide-open battle for places is a strength or weakness will become clearer on Saturday.
Gatland has not been helped by the procession of modest provincial opposition, against which the Lions have scored an average of 57.5 across all four games. There has been a pointlessness to the warm-up schedule apart from the 17-13 defeat by a Test-strength South Africa ‘A’ side, which at least offered some idea of which players will be able to stand up to the Springboks in the cauldron of a three-game series. Otherwise, how much have the Lions really learned from blowing away opponents enfeebled by the loss of their stars to the national squad?
It may have been only a 27-minute cameo, but the Lions saw enough on Saturday to know that Alun Wyn Jones’ comeback is real. Described by Gatland as a “miracle recovery”, Jones has somehow overcome the dislocated shoulder sustained three weeks ago to propel himself into Test contention. The tour captain absorbed blows to the joint in defence and attack, but given his lack of game time is he ready to face the Springboks?
Cowan-Dickie in the mix
One player who is undoubtedly ready for a shot at the world champions is Luke Cowan-Dickie, the Lions’ standout performer against the Stormers. The Exeter Chief was powerful in the carry and acted as the first line in defence, where his skill at winning turnovers also shone. Critically, his line-out throwing was laser-guided and he has a superb chance of edging Jamie George and Ken Owens at hooker. Not only are his stats superior, but he has the snarling aggression and confrontation required to face down South Africa.
Seizing the day
It has been a tour for long shots to challenge the established order. Ali Price and Chris Harris are two players who were absent from most pundits’ squad lists yet it would surprise no one if they started on Saturday. Duhan van der Merwe has consistently beaten tackles and Marcus Smith, who only arrived in South Africa on Monday, hinted that he could perform a bench role in Cape Town as Owen Farrell continues to struggle for form. There are others – Wyn Jones, Hamish Watson and Tadhg Beirne have been stars – to give Gatland the type of headache he will welcome.