Big boost for Lions in big win while South Africa A loses
CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — The British and Irish Lions rounded off the warmup part of their tour of South Africa with a resounding 49-3 win over the Stormers on Saturday.
There were a bunch of positives for the Lions on top of the seven-try victory a week out from the first test against the Springboks at the same Cape Town Stadium: Lock Alun Wyn Jones came off the bench to play the last 25 minutes and confirm his return from a dislocated shoulder that initially ruled the Lions captain out of the tour completely. The forwards were rampant, contributing six of the tries.
Marcus Smith provided a thorough display at No. 10 after being a late callup to the squad as injury cover.
Wing Duhan van der Merwe broke tackles and made ground all night, including a burst down the touchline that sent the Lions on their way to their first try.
And there were solid returns to action for center Robbie Henshaw and fullback Stuart Hogg.
Coach Warren Gatland was likely highly satisfied with how the Lions rebounded from a midweek loss to a South Africa A team that contained many of the Springboks the Lions will face in the first test next Saturday.
“Look, it is going to be a tough job picking the test team because we have so many choices,” Gatland said in a TV interview with Sky Sports. “There is going to be some serious debate over the next couple of days, but it has been a really good week for us.”
There was even good news for the Lions before their game. Another South Africa A lineup, made up this time mainly of Springboks reserves, had a shock 17-14 loss to domestic team the Bulls. That game was also at Cape Town Stadium and a few hours before the Lions played.
For the Lions, locks Adam Beard and Jonny Hill and hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie scored tries in the first half. No. 8 Jack Conan, replacement prop Zander Fagerson and replacement loose forward Sam Simmonds went over in the second half. Wing Louis Rees-Zammit also came off the bench and scored the second-to-last try, and was the only back to cross.
Smith, who was near-perfect all game, converted all seven tries.
South Africa A slipped to its defeat against the Bulls after being 14-0 up at halftime.
That match was hastily arranged this week to give South Africa’s squad some much-needed game time ahead of the tests. The Springboks played no test rugby for nearly two years after winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup, and had one of their two warmup tests against Georgia this month canceled because of virus cases in both squads.
Although South Africa A wasn’t a full-strength Springboks, it was still expected to win and win impressively against the Bulls.
South Africa A led through tries by fullback Aphelele Fassi in the 12th minute and center Wandisile Simelane in the 38th.
But the Bulls, now under South Africa’s 2007 World Cup-winning coach Jake White, scored two tries in two minutes from the 65th minute to draw level. Flyhalf Chris Smith kicked a penalty from way out with five minutes to go for the win.
South Africa A started with just one player considered a first-choice for the Springboks, inside center Damian de Allende.
But South Africa’s No. 2 flyhalf, Elton Jantjies, captained the team, and fellow World Cup winners Vincent Koch, Kwagga Smith and Cobus Reinach also started.
Hardly any of the Springboks’ backup players stood out.
“I wanted the guys to stake a claim for selection for next week’s test and, unfortunately, not everyone did that,” South Africa coach Jacques Nienaber said. “But I am not going to discuss individuals. Any comments on them will be emotional because we are hurting.”
The Springboks have been battling a COVID-19 outbreak in their squad for three weeks and a group of players, including captain Siya Kolisi, is still in Johannesburg self-isolating after testing positive for the virus.
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