Warren Gatland is in familiar territory as he prepares the British & Irish Lions for the third Test against World Cup winners South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday.
It is Gatland’s third tour as Lions’ head coach – and the third time the final match will be the series decider.
A repeat of the try-scoring romp that was the Lions’ 41-16 victory over Australia in Sydney in 2013 is unlikely.
More probable is the sort of hard-fought battle that ended with the Lions and New Zealand locked at 15-15 in Auckland four years later.
With six changes in his starting team after the Lions lost the second Test, Gatland is seeking a repeat of the drastic surgery that succeeded in Sydney.
Key, though, will be whether the Lions find space to launch attacks. Defences and tactical kicking dominated the first two Tests.
The Springbok defence was brutally effective in the second, which the hosts won 27-9.
According to the Opta sports analytics company, the Lions’ total of 105 running metres – an average of 1,24 a carry – was the lowest by a tier-one rugby team since the company started measuring this statistic in 2010.
“That’s where the game is at the moment,” Gatland said. “It is about territory and kicking and putting kick pressure on, not playing too much rugby.”
Gatland said the Lions wanted to play more expansively but admitted, “There’s not a hell of a lot of space for both teams”.
A challenge for the Springboks will be to repeat the intensity of last weekend.
They have been hit by injuries to two key players, flanker and 2019 World Rugby Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit and scrum-half Faf de Klerk.
They have also had to play the entire series without Duane Vermeulen, their hugely influential No. 8, who was man of the match in the 2019 World Cup final.
The injuries have caused the Springboks to rethink their strategy of bringing on a so-called “bomb squad” of tight forwards to inject power and energy in the second half.
With Franco Mostert switched from lock to flanker to replace Du Toit, Lood de Jager will start at second-row after being highly effective off the bench last week.
The Springboks have changed from a 6-2 forwards-backs replacements split to 5-3, with an entire front row and two loose forwards joining three backs.
De Klerk’s tactical kicking will be missed.
The Springboks’ solution to what must have been a selection headache was bringing in Cobus Reinach to partner Montpellier teammate Handre Pollard instead of promoting Herschel Jantjies from the bench.
As in the two previous Lions deciders, a French referee will be in charge, with Mathieu Raynal succeeding Romain Poite, who had the whistle in Sydney and Auckland.
Both sides have ramped up pressure on the officials.
South African director of rugby Rassie Erasmus is in trouble over his video which criticised first Test decisions while Gatland blamed the Springboks for slowing down play in the second.
©️ Agence France-Presse
Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO