Warren Gatland: ‘We need to look each other in the eye this week and come back stronger’

Lions head coach says they will keep to official channels in discussing officiating

 

As much as South Africa deserved their 27-9 win in the second Test in Cape Town to level the series, it will inevitably now be hailed as a masterstroke by Rassie Erasmus after his unprecedented campaign to influence the officials.

Warren Gatland declined to say whether this was the case.

“I thought it was pretty interesting. There’s been enough said. I won’t be going on social media this week and I don’t really want to comment on that because I want to let other people take care of that. The last thing we need is a war of words and being accused of doing certain things,” said Gatland.

“It’s amazing to me how the narrative changed with regard to the TMO. I mean I didn’t make one comment leading up to the game last week on the TMO, yet I was accused of questioning his integrity. That’s the messages they were giving out. We will keep things to ourselves and go through the proper channels when we talk with the referee after reviewing the game and then hopefully get some feedback from him and us give them some feedback as well.”

The British & Irish Lions head coach expressed the hope that this past week hasn’t set a dangerous precedent.

“Look, I hope that doesn’t happen. We’ve got systems and processes in place, and hopefully World Rugby does look at that in terms of making sure that everyone follows the protocols and I think that’s important. We do press conferences and try and give feedback and information, and we deal with the referees through World Rugby. That’s the process.

“I hope it doesn’t get to a situation where we end up with things on Twitter, and people airing their views in that way and not through the proper channels.

“I found it quite strange that that approach was taken, but it is definitely not something that I will get involved in. It is important that we keep the integrity in the game as much as we possibly can.”

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Asked specifically if Cheslin Kolbe taking out Conor Murray in the air merited more than a yellow card, Gatland declined to give a verdict.

“I’d not going to comment on the referee’s decisions. We will have our meeting with the referee this week and see what the assessors come back with in terms of their decisions. It didn’t look great from where I was, but he decided it was a yellow card.”

Reflecting on the game itself, Gatland said: “We were quite happy at half-time but in the second half, we just didn’t get into it really, got no momentum, no real opportunity to play, nothing at all from any of our kick returns, whether it was us or them.

“That was disappointing and we’ve probably given away some penalties. In fairness they scrummaged pretty well in the second half, drove a lot, and got some reward from that.”

Yet in the heel of the hunt, the Lions have now scored only one try in two games, off a lineout maul and save for Robbie Henshaw possibly scoring off Murray’s chip with a penalty advantage, the Lions created next to nothing.

What’s more, they retained a surprisingly one-dimensional devotion to a kicking game as their primary weapon of attack.

“The way they defend and rush up is quite tough,” said Gatland. “There were a couple of opportunities where we probably should have put the ball through the hands and looked to exploit that and we’d shortened them up on a few occasions.

“Even some times on penalty advantages they did a good job in not giving us that chance to play by just slowing the ball down and going back to the penalties. We’ve just got to be aware of that and try and take advantage of those situations.”

The momentum would now appear to be firmly with the Boks, but looking ahead to next week’s series decider Gatland said: “The players are very disappointed but next Saturday is a cup final and that is how we have to look at it and prepare. There’s a few things we’ve got to tidy up in terms of our game but it’s one-all and South Africa put a huge amount of emotion into that, so we have got that chance next week to hopefully tidy the series up.”

Freshening up the team seems likely now, most likely in the backrow and back three, with players like Liam Williams, Josh Adams and Tadhg Beirne to come into the mix, and perhaps also in the 10-12-13 axis, perhaps with Bundee Aki to get a chance. There’s a case for Iain Henderson in the secondrow too.

“It’s very early on now and the game has only just finished but it’s making sure that we do a proper review of the game and look at individuals. We have got lots of options in terms of bringing some guys in to give us energy or momentum as well,” said Gatland.

Robbie Henshaw’s performance was one of the few beacons in an increasingly bleak game, and afterwards he admitted: “It’s very tough, it’s Test match footie. Momentum swings both ways, fair play to South Africa they came out in second-half and got an edge in an arm-wrestle game,” he said.

“It’s a final next week and it’s all to play for. It’s those small things that didn’t fall our way, the 50-50s, the aerial battle favoured South Africa today. They got their try off a 50-50 and took it well.

“Those small bits of momentum, we’ve a lot of work to do. We need to look each other in the eye this week and come back stronger.”

“We have to move on, it’s all to play for. It’s finals rugby, the top level. Everyone is going to be up for it. It’s an exciting week.”

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