British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has fired a shot before the first Test against the Springboks, claiming they ‘dented their ego’ despite losing to South Africa A last week.
A South Africa A team stacked with 2019 World Cup-winning Springboks beat the Lions 17-13 last Wednesday, giving Gatland’s team their only loss of the 2021 tour so far.
However, after naming his team to face the Springboks in the first of the three-Test series, Gatland claimed that the Lions’ physical performance put a dent in the Boks’ esteem.
“In that A game we were very happy with the way our lineout went, our maul defence and our scrums. In a couple of scrums we dominated them. Whether they will come with a few different variations, I don’t think so; I think they will come with a harder approach,” Gatland said.
“That is one aspect we dented their ego in terms of they haven’t had that dominance that they would have liked. I have been incredibly impressed with the way we have defended on this tour, and the way we have improved. We haven’t conceded a lineout maul try, or a pick-and- go try in this tour.
“That is one aspect we have worked really really hard on and if we can stop them from dominating in those areas, they are going to have to go to something else in their game.”
Gatland was an assistant coach when the Lions last toured South Africa in 2009 and lost the Test series 2-1 to the Springboks.
He added that it will be key for the Lions not to allow the “niggle” to get under their skin.
“The message is making sure we don’t take a backwards step,” Gatland said. “We don’t allow them, like in 2009 there were a lot of guys running in and pushing and shoving – those sorts of bits and pieces – we addressed that as a squad and said that we wouldn’t take any more of it. That is why there was probably that niggle in 2009 and it is part of the way that they have dominated other teams in the world. You have got to just keep coming at them and make sure you don’t take a backwards step.
“We don’t think they will play a huge amount of rugby, we think they will play territory and we need to be strong in those areas and be prepared to stay in that arm wrestle and then wait for the opportunities that come from that and be able to capitalise on that.”
Photo: Dan Sheridan/INPHO