Lions determined to put on a show and avoid ‘60-odd minute halves’

Warren Gatland says his Lions team ‘want to keep the tempo of the game up’

The Lions’ return of just 105 metres from 85 carries was apparently the lowest metres-per-carry in a test match since Opta began compiling match statistics. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

The Lions’ return of just 105 metres from 85 carries was apparently the lowest metres-per-carry in a test match since Opta began compiling match statistics. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho

 

Last Saturday’s second Test had many unwanted landmarks, the most notable being the near 64 minute first-half and over 117 minutes of game time either side of the interval. Yet akin to the first Test, only less so, there was a mere 30 minutes and 30 seconds of ball in play time, almost equivalent to a quarter of the total time it took to complete the match.

For the Lions to have any chance of winning next Saturday’s series decider Warren Gatland acknowledges this needs to be upped.

“I think there are two things there. One is looking to keep the ball and also talking to officials about making sure that we keep the game flowing. We felt that at every scrum there was an injury, slowing the game down. I think there was something like 14 minutes of TMO time and we’ve worked pretty hard from a conditioning point of view but it was really, really stop-start and that made it frustrating for us.

“We want to keep the tempo of the game up, to get the ball in at our scrums and get the ball in quickly at line-outs, to play and to get a flow. And South Africa at the moment don’t want to do that.

It’s not so much about the creativity, it’s about making sure that we get some front foot ball

“I know Alun Wyn Jones was talking to the referee on a number of occasions about keeping it going. We had stud changes, we had TMO decisions, we had the referee stopping the game for cramp. So that will be one of the things I talk to the referees about this week.

“We need to make sure we can’t have 60-odd minute halves. It’s important that we keep the flow of the game, and as much from a spectator point of view. We want to see some great rugby played at the weekend.”

The Lions were kept tryless for the first time in a Test since the 1980s against Jacques Nienaber’s famed Boks’ defence (who have conceded three tries in their last nine Tests) which emanated from an inability to generate go-forward ball save for that passage of play leading to Robbie Henshaw’s ‘try’ being ruled out.

The Lions’ return of just 105 metres from 85 carries (the Boks had 179 from 86) was apparently the lowest metres-per-carry in a test match since Opta began compiling match statistics.

The British & Irish Lions

Full coverage of all the action in South Africa READ MORE

When asked about the lack of creativity Gatland explained: “it’s just having the ball at the right time to do that. It’s not so much about the creativity, it’s about making sure that we get some front foot ball. I wouldn’t say that South Africa have been creative in any way from an attacking perspective; they haven’t really stressed us in any way.

“We played some good rugby earlier on this tour with some front foot ball. At the weekend we had some good phases and we identified to the players where we had created some chances and probably just haven’t executed them.

Rush defence

Noting the Boks’ rush defence, Gatland added: “That’s why it’s so important to get on the front foot to get some go-forward, whether that’s through your forwards or hitting it up, or the variation of a positive kicking game to slow the line speed. That gives you a little more time on the ball to create more space.”

Gatland was speaking after making six changes to his starting XV. Wyn Jones and Ken Owens come into the frontrow, Ali Price is restored at scrumhalf, Bundee Aki called up to partner Robbie Henshaw, who shifts to ‘13’, and Josh Adams and Liam Williams are brought into the back three to resolve their problems under the high ball in the second test.

“Unfortunately with our whole back three last week we weren’t great in that area. We put a lot of balls down,” said Gatland, who admitted that “we got nothing” out of the aerial battle.

Stuart Hogg, Anthony Watson and Chris Harris drop out of the matchday 23, as do Rory Sutherland, Tadhg Beirne, Taulupe Faletau and Farrell, with Adam Beard, Sam Simmonds and Finn Russell all promoted to the bench.

While the starting team points to more of the plan A, a more dynamic looking bench suggests more of a plan B for the last 20 or 30 minutes.

Gatland also expressed his annoyance that World Rugby said it was concerned “that individuals from both teams have commented on the selection and/or performance of match officials” when issuing misconduct charges against Rassie Erasmus.

“We’ve tried to, we think, maintain as much integrity as we can. We haven’t been commenting on refereeing. We never questioned the TMO. The only question we asked is why hadn’t World Rugby put a contingency plan in place if people couldn’t travel or got sick.”

Gatland asked World Rugby about the possibility of bringing in a neutral TMO for the second and third tests.

“I spoke to Joe Schmidt, who is involved, to give me some clarity on the decision and why plans hadn’t been put in place regarding this. It’s not just the TMO, what would have happened if the referees couldn’t make it out here?

“We’ve had contingency plans for a couple of things in case things happened with Covid so that we’d be covered. What we questioned was the process.”

The Springboks will be without the influential duo of Pieter-Steph du Toit (shoulder) and Faf de Klerk (leg), with Franco Mostert moving to flanker as Lood de Jager starts, while Cobus Reinach replaces De Klerk. The Boks have also reverted to a more orthodox 5-3 bench split in recalling Morne Steyn, whose long-range penalty sealed the Boks’ series win in the second test in 2009.

South Africa: Willie le Roux (Toyota Verblitz); Cheslin Kolbe (Toulouse), Lukhanyo Am (Cell C Sharks), Damian de Allende (Munster), Makazole Mapimpi (Cell C Sharks); Handré Pollard (vice-captain, Montpellier), Cobus Reinach (Montpellier); Steven Kitshoff (DHL Stormers), Bongi Mbonambi (DHL Stormers), Frans Malherbe (DHL Stormers); Eben Etzebeth (Toulon), Lood de Jager (Sale Sharks); Siya Kolisi (captain, Cell C Sharks), Franco Mostert (Honda Heat), Jasper Wiese (Leicester Tigers). Replacements: Malcolm Marx (Kubota Spears), Trevor Nyakane (Vodacom Bulls), Vincent Koch (Saracens), Marco van Staden (Vodacom Bulls), Kwagga Smith (Yamaha Júbilo), Herschel Jantjies (DHL Stormers), Morné Steyn (Vodacom Bulls), Damian Willemse (DHL Stormers).

British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Josh Adams (Cardiff Rugby, Wales), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster Rugby, Ireland), Bundee Aki (Connacht Rugby, Ireland), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester Warriors, Scotland); Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints, Wales), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland); Wyn Jones (Scarlets, Wales), Ken Owens (Scarlets, Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Leinster Rugby, Ireland); Maro Itoje (Saracens, England), Alun Wyn Jones - captain (Ospreys, Wales); Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England), Tom Curry (Sale Sharks, England), Jack Conan (Leinster Rugby, Ireland). Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs, England), Mako Vunipola (Saracens, England), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol Bears, England), Adam Beard (Ospreys, Wales), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs, England), Conor Murray (Munster Rugby, Ireland), Finn Russell (Racing 92, Scotland), Elliot Daly (Saracens, England).

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.