British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland said his players were “pretty bullish” despite losing 17-13 to South Africa A at the Cape Town Stadium.
The Lions, unbeaten up until this stage, faltered for the first time in their 2021 tour when a Springbok-enfused South Africa A team held on to claim a victory on Wendesday night.
Gatland’s side had claimed comfortable wins against the Sigma Lions and Sharks (twice) in the build-up to this game, but were put through a physical test and struggled to match their opponents in the first half.
However, speaking after the game, Gatland was assertive about who gained the most from the match, ahead of next weekend’s first Test against the Springboks.
“I thought we got more out of tonight than South Africa,” said Gatland. “The players were pretty bullish in the changing room.”
Gatland said he was proud of the way his team came back from 17-3 down at half-time.
“We finished the stronger team and they wilted a bit.
“We got over their line a couple of times and had two tries disallowed and we had a kick charged down which enabled them to score a try. There were also one or two decisions which did not go our way.”
One of those decisions was a yellow card to South Africa scrumhalf Faf de Klerk shortly before half-time, which Gatland thought was “definitely” contact with the head and could have resulted in a red card
Gatland said he was pleased with the way the Lions stood up to a powerful South African pack in the scrums, but acknowledged that they needed to work at improving their breakdowns play.
He also said the Lions had not given away all their secrets during a bruising encounter.
“There are some plays that we have been working on and we will keep working on them leading up to the Test matches. It’s important to keep a few things back.”
Gatland added the issue of the tour captaincy would be discussed when originally-appointed captain Alun Wyn Jones arrives in Cape Town on Thursday.
Scrumhalf Conor Murray, who led the Lions on Wednesday, was given the tour leadership when lock Wyn Jones was ruled out because of a shoulder injury from which he has since recovered.
“We will sit down with him and Conor and decide,” he said.
Meanwhile, Irish hooker Ronan Kelleher will join the fit-again Alun Wyn Jones as additions to the British and Irish Lions squad, the tourists announced in Cape Town on Wednesday.
It was earlier announced that Wyn Jones, who had been due to captain the touring party, would be flying to South Africa overnight.
In a later statement, the Lions said Kelleher, who plays for Irish province Leinster, would also be on the flight.
“There are no injuries to the three hookers out here, but we think it is prudent to bring in cover in that position ahead of the Test series,” said coach Warren Gatland.
Gatland had hinted that front-row reinforcements might be called up during a press conference on Monday.
He said that South African Rugby had suggested it might be prudent to have extra players in key positions because of the difficulty of late call-ups due to the coronavirus pandemic.
– Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse
Photo: Gallo Images