Warren Gatland admits next Saturday is a 'cup final' after second Test defeat

Warren Gatland says nothing went his team's way in the second half

It has certainly been a week of preparation unlike any other Lions Test in history. Never before has a series been so under the microscope and this is thanks, in part, to Rassie Erasmus.

His ‘burner’ Twitter account was merely the tip of the iceberg following the Springboks’ loss last weekend, Erasmus’ hour-long video very much coming to the fore as the week went on. Criticising Nic Berry’s officiating in that first Test, every decision that Ben O’Keeffe made earlier today was put under that same microscope. 

The Erasmus effect. 

Decisions made on Cheslin Kolbe’s head-on-head collision with Tom Curry, for example, started the conversation that the Boks’ Director of Rugby was in the mind of the Kiwi began to circulate in the Twittersphere. As you’d expect in this day and age, naturally.

Warren Gatland even had comments made about him by Erasmus, the New Zealander hopeful that Erasmus’ actions don’t become commonplace in rugby, so not as to damage the game’s integrity.

“I hope that doesn’t happen,” Gatland started, “we have got systems and processes in place and hopefully World Rugby does look at that (the video), in terms of making sure that everyone follows the protocols.

"I think that is important because, we do press conferences and try to give you guys’ feedback and information and we deal with the referees and deal through World Rugby and that’s kind of the process.

“I just hope it doesn’t get to a situation where we end up with things on Twitter and people airing their views in that way and through the proper channels (instead).

"I have found it quite strange that approach was taken, but it is definitely not something that I will get involved with. It is important that we keep the integrity of the game up as much as we can.”

This, along with other comments about the Lions, have certainly made for an interesting seven days. As discussed on the TRU podcast earlier this week, it has been either genius or madness, and to be honest, it still isn’t exactly clear, but what Erasmus did was take the pressure off his players entirely.

As a result, the likes of Handre Pollard, Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am all flourished in the Test, the boot of their fly-half even creating one of South Africa’s tries at Cape Town Stadium.

Much like last week, the losing side led at half-time, Gatland more than pleased with his team’s efforts across the first 40 minutes. Giving away multiple penalties in the second period, the Lions were unable to build momentum, consistently pinned in their own half, stunted by a veracious Bok defensive front.

“We were happy going in at the first half,” Gatland said. “We just didn’t get anything, really. We got no momentum no real opportunity to play, we got nothing at all from any sort of kick return, whether that was us or them, that was disappointing, and we had given away some penalties. 

“In fairness to them, they scrummaged pretty well in the second half, drove a lot and got some reward from that. We were happy with the way the first half had gone and we felt we’d carried well, got some forward momentum and we just didn’t achieve that at all in the second half.”

It was in the air that the Lions struggled most, Stuart Hogg in particular unable to establish any sort of dominance in the air. 

What was more frustrating is that Liam Williams was watching on from the stands, coffee in hand, as his team struggled in the area he dominates in most.

With plenty of time between now and next Saturday, it is clear that there will be another couple of changes made by the coaching group ahead of the decisive final Test.

To say there is motivation for all involved in the Lions squad is putting things mildly, the chance to earn a full cap for the tourists and to contribute to a series win all adding to the culmination of an always iconic series of fixtures.

“The players were obviously disappointed (to lose), but next Saturday is a cup final,” Gatland said. “That is the way we have got to look at it and prepare and a few things to tidy up in terms of our game. 

“It is one-all and they put a huge amount of emotion into that game, South Africa did, so we have got that chance next week to hopefully tie the series up.”