Lions Tour: Townsend hoping for fast game to open up Springboks in deciding Test

Attacking coach admits more creativity is required after return of just one try so far

The British & Irish Lions’ only try in the Test series against South Africa came from  Luke Cowan-Dickie  in the first Test. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

The British & Irish Lions’ only try in the Test series against South Africa came from Luke Cowan-Dickie in the first Test. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

The British & Irish Lions approach to Saturday’s series decider against South Africa in Cape Town (kick-off 5pm) knowing that they have scored just one try, off a catch-and-drive, in the two Tests to date.

Against the famed Boks blitz defence, save for Robbie Henshaw not being awarded the touch down from Conor Murray’s chip nearing half-time, they hardly carved a try-scoring chance in last week’s second Test.

Their attack coach is the first to admit that the tourists have been lacking creativity.

“We have got to create more, that’s for sure,” admitted Gregor Townsend before the squad went to the stadium on Friday for their captain’s run. “If you create opportunities, whether that comes through errors in the defence that can get you line breaks that lead to tries, that gives you a better chance to win the game.

“But you may create more through pressure, through fatiguing opposition, getting penalties. In these tight Test matches, that could be enough to win the game.

“We did that well in the first Test, especially in the second half. We were building into that sort of performance in the first half of the second Test but we didn’t do it for 80 minutes.

“We know that we have to control the game more by moving South Africa around, draining them of energy whenever we can. That will be an area where we focus for sure.”

To that end, the Lions need to keep the ball in play longer and take the Boks through more phases, and the need for a quicker game has been impressed upon referee Mathieu Reynal.

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“Yeah, we have made the point that we don’t want unnecessary stoppages,” said Townsend, while also admitting: “You keep the tempo and the flow of the game through your own accuracy and decision making. When the game stops for a scrum or lineout, you want it restarted as quickly as possible.

“Everybody does who is watching it at home, so I’d like to think that it will be a shorter game this weekend than last weekend.”

Perhaps the most damning statistic in underlining the Lions’ conservative approach last Saturday was that Dan Biggar only passed the ball three times, while kicking it on seven occasions (Owen Farrell had four kicks and two passes after he came on) compared to Handré Pollard’s 14 passes and 10 kicks.

“One thing was we kicked a few times in the opposition half; sometimes that brought a reward, sometimes it didn’t.” said Townsend. “That was obviously a strategy. In the first half we felt we were getting momentum a lot playing off nine. When you are playing off nine, obviously 10 is not going to touch the ball on too many occasions.

“In terms of a half of rugby, we were pretty pleased with a lot of work going on. We could have moved the ball more. We could have taken the opportunities when we got in the 22 – just come alive a bit more. But it was a half of rugby where Dan made really good decisions.

“But whether a 10 passes a lot or not is not necessarily a good or a bad thing; we want our 10s to take on this blitz defence too. So people are rushing up on the outside; you can play round it, you can play between it or you can take it on as a first receiver and Dan did that a couple of times well.

“There are more nuances and a bit more behind those stats. In terms of a first half of rugby Dan at 10, we felt we did enough to control that game and put more points on the board.”

Of the eight matches the Lions have played until now, arguably the most creative and potent that they have been in the four games against non-provincial opposition was in the opening 28-10 win over Japan in Murrayfield, when Josh Adams, Duhan van der Merwe and Tadhg Beirne scored the tries.

Only now, in their final hour and a half of need (give or take a few minutes) have the Lions coaches restored Bundee Aki, Adams and Liam Williams and so resorted to the same backline as that game bar Ali Price starting ahead of Murray.

“That’s probably more a coincidence,” maintained Townsend. “I think the guys played really well that day against Japan. The players have played really well on tour. We know there’s a couple of players in this backline who have waited for an opportunity to play and start a Test match, and they’re getting it tomorrow. We have had a lot of competition for places right throughout the squad and we feel this is the right 15 and 23 to win a game and Test series tomorrow.”

Whereas the Springboks have rolled back the years by restoring the 37-year-old Morné Steyn, Gatland and Townsend have opted for the gifted unpredictability of Finn Russell to potentially chase, or close out, the game on what would be his Lions Test debut.

Given he’s only played two games since Racing’s season ended seven weeks ago, and the last of them was over a month ago due to his slightly torn Achilles, it could be a very big ask of Russell.

Townsend admitted it has been a tough tour for his Scottish playmaker.

“It has and it’s a credit to him and our medics that he’s available. He’s got himself on the bench because we know he can ask different questions than any flyhalf in the world and he’s trained really well this week – outstanding on Tuesday and again yesterday. So he’s feeling much better around where he is with his Achilles and just connecting with others in the team.

“If he does get on then I look forward to seeing him play but obviously we’re looking at our 15 to begin with doing all they can to win this game.”

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