De Klerk: Boks will need to contend with Lions’ kicking game

Faf de Klerk fully expects the British & Irish Lions to present a powerful kicking game in the series against the Springboks, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

The B&I Lions tour to South Africa is set to start with a clash with the Lions on 3 July in Johannesburg, while the final two Tests are set to be hosted at FNB Stadium on 31 July and 7 August.

Last week, Lions coach Warren Gatland unveiled his squad for the tour to South Africa, rewarding veteran Wales flyhalf Dan Biggar with a call-up while omitting Johnny Sexton.

There is a strong suspicion that Gatland could well opt to start with Biggar at 10, while Owen Farrell may slot in at inside centre where he has generally been deployed by England coach Eddie Jones.

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With two B&I Lions Tests set to be played on the highveld, Gatland has spoken openly about the plans being put in place to ensure the team is able to acclimatise to the conditions.

The Lions coach will also be fully aware of just how the highveld air impacts kicking range out of hand and at goal, as well as exit strategies.

For the Springboks, De Klerk and Handre Pollard offer a left- and right-foot kicking option, while fullback Willie le Roux possesses a versatile kicking game. Coming off the bench, Frans Steyn could offer a real threat with his right-foot rocket launchers.

In an exclusive interview with SA Rugby magazine, De Klerk said he certainly expects the Lions to boast a multi-faceted aerial game that the Boks would need to be able to cope with.

‘Looking at some of the players, obviously a lot of the teams in the UK come with a really strong kicking strategy – so I’m certain the Lions will bring a great kicking game and that’s something we are definitely going to have to make plans to deal with.

‘It’s always going to be a massive physical battle. Those guys are playing for a lot, so there’s definitely going to be a lot of intensity going into those Test matches.

‘At the end of the day, we are going to have to figure out how they want to play against us through selection. I’m very sure that the management staff has done a lot of work on how Gatland likes to coach his teams and I think that would be pretty similar going into how he would coach the Lions side.’

If one thinks back to the Boks’ 2019 World Cup semi-final against Wales – then coached by Gatland – the Springbok management identified just how prolific their kicking game was.

Ultimately, the Boks refused to lose patience, and engaged Wales with a sequence of contestable kicks in a contest that was ultimately defined by the aerial battle.

It will be fascinating to see what strategies the Lions and Boks have been cooking up behind the scenes, but De Klerk says he has full faith in the plans that would be put in place.

‘When we do get together, there’s obviously going to be a lot of detail we will need to absorb in a short space of time. But if I know the coaching staff back home, they’ll have been planning for years. I have full confidence in that, and the plans that will be put in place.

‘The way all our sessions are run is really good, and we never go into a game underprepared. If you also compare it to the Lions squad coming over to South Africa, they are also not going to have a lot of time together. So, it’s going to be pretty much an even playing field on that front.’

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Craig Lewis