Opinion – Jacques Nortier
According to reports British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has vowed to “play more rugby” in the final test against the Springboks on Saturday.
That thinking is normally reserved on a tour like this when you have already won the series so calling it bold is an understatement in my opinion.
My thinking is that Gatland has fallen under the pressure of those that called the test last week boring. I fail to understand that a test match with two great sides who do not give an inch can be called boring.
Maybe we have been brainwash for so long with this run-at-all cause Super Rugby games and we believe that is what the game should be at test level.
The definition of test is quit clear,” a procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something…”
That has always been what the uneducated me though of test match cricket and test match rugby and that is why it is the one form of these two sports which I enjoy the most.
It test a team at the ultimate level of the sport.
Now back to Gatland stating he wants to play a running game against the Springboks.
This may be a huge mistake from the veteran Lions coach. Again I may not be an expert in the modern game but since Rassie Erasmus and Jacques Nienaber took over at the Springboks not many teams were able to score tries against them.
In fact you can go back to the time they started at the Cheetahs and throughout their career as coaches, and the same conclusion will be made, defensively they are as good as you get.
Gatland is now asking the Lions players to make a total game change from what they have been doing against the Springboks in three matches, YES three because the SA A game was an unofficial test in my eyes.
It may be easy to tell your U10 school side to start running with the ball but to suddenly ask an international team in a crucial test match to chance their game is not going to be easy.
He has selected the right team for playing such a game but this is something they have not practice or put to action on the field since playing the Stormers weeks ago in one of the warmup matches.
Against the Springboks I see only one way in beating them, you beat their pack.
You win the collisions and you win the set pieces as they did in that first test. Anything else is a 50/50 on the day and with the Springboks having now played and practice a bit more than when the first test came around, it is not even a given thinking you can take them on up front.
Gatland save may be that the Springboks will be without Pieter Steph Du Toit and Faf de Klerk, two key members of this team since 2018 but their replacements are equally as good.
If we forget about that dark times after the World Cup 2015 and when Rassie Erasmus took over, the only team that have beaten the Springboks more often than not in history is the All Blacks.
Now why will that be?
Simple really, the All Blacks respect the Springboks physicality and adopt their game when playing against them.
My thinking was that Gatland would apply the same logic in. this crucial third test match this weekend.
I feel sorry for him, he has a group of the best talent in Britain and has to find combinations which will work against a team that won the World Cup in 2019 and have a structure which is not easy to beat when they are on song.
I do not see anything wrong with a kicking game, the problem with a kicking game comes when you kick and can not execute and that is what happened to the Lions last week.
I thought it was very clever to play the big bombs in the Springboks twenty two last week, they could have easily scored two or three tries from that but it did not come off and Gatland and his team got crucified for it.
Just a week before they did play a kicking game as well and an undercook and under prepared Springbok side struggled to cope with it and it worked so that they laid the foundation for that great comeback in the second half.
I may be not a coach by a long shot, but if I was Gatland I would not have changed my game plan I would just asked my players to execute it better.