THE British & Irish Lions thumped the Stormers 49-3 on Saturday to finish the preliminary phase of their tour with four straight wins against the South Africa’s franchises.

Luke Cowan-Dickie and Hamish Watson were at the heart of a fierce and clinical forward performance at the Cape Town Stadium. Debutant Marcus Smith’s speed and sleight of hand amplified the tourists’ attack to a spectacular degree.

In the wake of such an emphatic win, it's clear that Warren Gatland faces several healthy selection headaches ahead of the tourists’ first Test against the Springboks.

“I thought that Luke and the second and back rows were good against the Stormers,” the Lions coach said. “The longer the game went on, the better Marcus Smith looked. For a guy who has only been with us for five days and has only had one training session, Marcus did exceptionally well.

“It’s been a brilliant week for us in the sense that we got exactly what we wanted. That match against a strong South Africa A side on Wednesday has given us an idea of what’s coming [from the Boks in the Tests].

“South Africa A fielded a very different team against the Bulls. I don’t think that we would have learned as much if we’d played against that combination.”

South Africa were handed their own rugby lesson in the earlier warm-up staged at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday. As Gatland and his players arrived at the ground to prepare, they watched on as the Bulls – coached by 2007 World Cup-winner Jake White – beat a lacklustre South Africa A team 17-14.

To be fair, Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber made wholesale changes following South Africa A’s win against the Lions this past Wednesday. Many of the players who featured in the previous fixture watched Saturday’s game from the stands.

Nevertheless, as Nienaber admitted afterwards, the performance against the Bulls was poor and the coaches as well as the team have plenty to rectify in the coming days.

“It’s hard to find positives after a team performance like that,” Nienaber said. “We needed the warm-up games against Georgia, the Lions and especially this one against the Bulls to see how these players reacted under pressure. We got those answers, and it’s clear we have a lot of work to do.”

Alun Wyn Jones returned to the Lions squad earlier this week after making a full recovery from a shoulder dislocation. Gatland did not hesitate to rush the 157-Test veteran into the squad for the match against the Stormers.

“He put a few shots on, defended well, and had a nice couple of touches on attack,” Gatland said of Jones’ second-half cameo against the Stormers. “Getting through that period was the big thing for him.

“I know how hard he’s worked over the past year. He desperately wants to play for the Lions.

"He’s a competitor. I guess that goes to show how much this means to him, and for all the players. They’re desperate to go on a Lions tour and to be successful."

This contest was not as intense or physical as the battle witnessed on Wednesday evening. This was to be expected, of course, as the Stormers were without most of their frontline forwards.

Pieter-Steph du Toit, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Steven Kitshoff, Scarra Ntubeni and Marvin Orie are currently with the South African team. Two more Cape-based Springboks in Herschel Jantjies and Damian Willemse are also unavailable due to national commitments.

The home team started well, applying the pressure via their defence as well as an accurate kick-and-chase strategy. Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe struggled initially – and this may be a concern ahead of a battle against a Bok team that will employ similar high-ball tactics.

At the breakdown, however, the Lions were dominant from start to finish. Watson stifled the Stormers at the rucks and provided his defensive line with more time to reset. Cowan-Dickie made a number of important turnovers in this area, which allowed the Lions to counterattack.

The Lions started to hit their stride after Adam Beard crossed the tryline in the 28th minute. By half-time, they had moved into a 21-3 lead. They continued to dominate at the collisions in the second stanza, and as their confidence grew, they began to throw more offloads.

Smith kept the Stormers defence guessing with a series of inside passes and cross kicks. While the Lions didn’t capitalise on every chance, the physicality as well as the tempo of their approach was constant.

“We’ve got some tight calls to make ahead of the Tests,” Gatland admitted. “We will consider what’s best in terms of the balance of the starting XV.

"It’s also important to look at the impact the bench can have in those matches. We need to decide who can continue with the momentum late in the game or who can add something different should we need it.

“I have some names in my head and ideas about combinations, but I will need to talk to the medics about who’s available. It’s looking pretty good on that front."

Stormers – Penalty: Tim Swiel.
British & Irish Lions – Tries: Adam Beard, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Jonny Hill, Jack Conan, Zander Fagerson, Louis-Reez Zammit, Sam Simmonds. Conversions: Marcus Smith (7).

Stormers: 15 Sergeal Petersen, 14 Leolin Zas, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Godlen Masimla, 8 Evan Roos, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Nama Xaba, 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Ernst van Rhyn (captain), 3 Neethling Fouche, 2 JJ Kotze, 1 Leon Lyons.
Replacements: 16 Andre-Hugo Venter, 17 Dian Bleuler, 18 Lee-Marvin Mazibuko, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Marcel Theunissen, 21 Thomas Bursey, 22 Abner van Reenen, 23 Cornel Smit.

British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Josh Adams, 13 Elliot Daly, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Tadhg Beirne, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Adam Beard, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Chris Harris, 23 Louis Rees-Zammit.