Warren Gatland hoping most chaotic week is now behind the Lions

‘We’ve just got to go with the flow and react to whatever is thrown at us’

Jack Conan scores the Lions’ fifth try against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

Jack Conan scores the Lions’ fifth try against the Sharks at Loftus Versfeld Stadium. Photograph: David Rogers/Getty Images

 

Warren Gatland signed off the most turbulent week of his career as the British and Irish Lions defied their Covid problems to overrun the Sharks for the second time in four days.

The Lions brushed aside a slow start against spirited opponents to run out 71-31 winners at Loftus Versfeld and maintain their triumphant progress through South Africa.

On Wednesday night a heavily-revised team that was short on backs scrambled to Emirates Airline Park to fulfil the first Sharks fixture as concerns over a significant coronavirus outbreak lingered.

And while those fears have eased with just one player and four staff members still self-isolating at the team hotel in Johannesburg, the Lions were only able to complete one full training session for the rematch in Pretoria.

A further setback arrived just hours before kick-off when Maro Itoje was ruled out of the starting XV by a stomach bug and Finn Russell was withdrawn from the bench because of an Achilles injury that could end his tour.

Gatland admitted it had been the most chaotic few days he has experienced as a coach and added: “One of the things we’ve done right from the start of the tour is say that there will be some chaos.

“There has been chaos. It’s then about adapting to that and then changing. That’s been the mantra. I thought we handled it during the week. I see it as a positive.

“If there’s anything wrong with us, that doesn’t upset us. We’re able to make decisions quickly and move on. We’ve just got to go with the flow and react to whatever is thrown at us.

“If anything else happens on the tour that is as chaotic as this week has been, that would probably surprise me.”

Despite the unflattering final scoreline, the Sharks were a far greater test the second time around and the score was tied at 26-26 until Jaden Hendrikse was shown a red card for elbowing Liam Williams early in the second half.

After a procession through South Africa so far, for 45 minutes this was the kind of workout the Lions needed.

“It’s what is going to come in the Test matches in terms of the South African team who will look to come pretty hard, put us under pressure and see if they can catch us behind the gainline with some loose stuff,” Gatland said.

“We just need to make sure that we are a bit more accurate, tidier and we did that a lot better in the second half.

“The players were well aware they’d forced a few passes and thrown a couple of bad ones which allowed them the opportunity to score.”

Gatland conceded that Russell’s injury could rule him out of the Test series, prompting a call-up for England’s rookie outhalf Marcus Smith.

“Finn’s had an injection. It’s not a strained Achilles, there’s a slight, wee tear in it. That’ll keep him out for the next couple of weeks,” Gatland said.

“We’ll see if we can rehab him and he’s going to be in a boot for the next five days. When he comes out of that, he’ll have some more treatment over the next five days.

“If he makes good progress we’ll assess him going forward. If he’s not, then there’s a possibility he may go home. It’s a wait and see situation with him.”

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