Gatland: Niggly training sessions tougher than warm-up matches

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has suggested a couple of recent training sessions have been “tougher” than some of the warm-up games they played.

In the tourists’ pre-Test games, they first defeated the Lions 56-14 before claiming 54-7 and 71-31 wins over the Sharks in back-to-back matches.

In the second clash with the Sharks, the scores were level at 26-26 early in the second half, but a red card to Jaden Hendrikse swung the momentum.

The Lions then suffered a defeat by a star-studded SA A side while, in the final tour game, they comfortably clinched a 49-3 victory over the Stormers.

On Wednesday, Gatland named the Lions team to face the Springboks this Saturday, and the coach suggested there had been some “niggle” as training intensified ahead of the first Test.

“We are really pleased with the form of a lot of players in the squad and it’s how they respond to that, their responsibility in helping the Test side prepare for Saturday. I must say they have been absolutely brilliant.

“The last couple of training sessions no one has taken a backward step and we had a pretty tasty training session yesterday [Tuesday], a little bit of niggle stuff that was exactly what we wanted. I take my hat off to the guys that were helping that Test team. They really fronted up and trained exceptionally well. You couldn’t ask for more from a coaching perspective.

“Some of the training sessions have probably been tougher than some of the games,” said Gatland. “We had a bit of ‘bone on bone’ yesterday. It was a pretty tough day with a bit of niggle, as you’d expect. The pleasing thing was that the guys who missed out just threw everything at it.

“There was a bit of stomping – standing on someone’s leg and stomping. The guy just had to take a few stomps and get his leg out of the way because he was slowing the ball down. I thought it was brilliant. There were a couple of pushes and shoves. Guys were not backing down.

“You get that in Test-match rugby. There was nothing in terms of punches thrown. You just saw guys not being prepared to take a backwards step. It just shows what it means. You have guys who are disappointed and want to show their disappointment by making sure that they don’t go backwards. That sometimes flares up into a bit of niggle.”

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Craig Lewis