It would be more than fair to say that the British and Irish Lions’ win over South Africa earlier on today was far from perfect.
Trailing 12-3 at the break, it took an impressive second half performance to take the series lead. Even then, there were two disallowed tries for the Boks, and Hamish Watson was lucky to have remained on the pitch, despite having seemingly upended Willie le Roux in clear view of referee Nic Berry.
Giving away less penalties and the introduction of the replacements helped to consolidate the result. These facts are by no means lost on Gatland, who was pleased with his teams’ performance with two more games in the series to come.
“For them, both teams, you look at it and go; it is the bounce of the ball, could have gone any way,” Gatland said. “A couple of calls as well, if they had been different, it might have affected the result.
“We were happy with the way we defended, we didn’t think that they had created a lot of attacking opportunities, and in that last passage of play, we were coming off the line, making big tackles and they weren’t going anywhere, but they will be hurt from this because they are an incredibly proud nation and world champions, so next week is going to be even bigger and tougher I would expect.
“From our point of view, you win that first one and you know, no matter what happened, you are going to the last weekend of the series. That keeps everyone engaged and really interested in it. The message to the players is that it wasn’t just about the 23, that is an incredibly tight group of players.
?? MATCH REPORT— Talking Rugby Union (@TalkRugbyUnion) July 24, 2021
????@Springboks 17-22 @lionsofficial ??
Missed the first Test? No need to worry.
Read our match report from the game below, it did not disappoint. https://t.co/EIQEzcdKIq pic.twitter.com/U44Cvk74fm
“The non-23 did a brilliant job this week, in helping that Test 23 prepare, so the victory was as much about them and the whole squad than just the guys who took to the field.”
There was an apparent nervousness from the Lions in the opening 40 minutes, perhaps too preoccupied with preventing the Boks from doing what they do best. As a result, the Lions bled penalties, Tom Curry’s indiscretions symptomatic of this, but you fast-forward to the second period, and it was clear there was a shift in mindset from then on.
Alun Wyn Jones opted to kick to the corner, the resulting lineout maul seeing Luke Cowan-Dickie score the game’s opening try. From then on it was the Lions game to lose, the newly introduced front-row of Steven Kitshoff, Malcolm Marx and Frans Malherbe not having quite the same dominance as the men they replaced at the set-piece.
Add to this the supremacy of Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje in each facet of the game helped the tourist’s pack stay on top, the pair vying for the Player of the Match award. Kicking was very much the order of the day, Dan Biggar performing excellently before failing a HIA in the second period.
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The second half introductions of Ken Owens, Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler helped secure the victory, their contributions at the set-piece in particular helping keep the momentum. Having made the changes that allowed for the victory, Gatland is of the belief that there is still more to come from his players in the coming weeks.
“I thought our lineout was excellent today,” Gatland said. “The scrum looked like it was under a little bit of pressure at the start of the game, and we eased into it and we ended up with a couple of scrum penalties too.
“They (South Africa) are going to keep working as hard as a group and they continue to improve in those areas. We feel there is a lot more in us too, I just think from a conditioning side, we are just getting stronger and stronger and are able to keep the intensity and keep the pace going for the full 80 minutes.
“That is a really pleasing aspect of how hard we have worked over the last six weeks or so.”