Warren Gatland warns Lions to roll up their sleeves and match Springboks’ physicality
Share this article:
CAPE TOWN – Warren Gatland has some unfinished business with the British and Irish Lions in South Africa, and said the upcoming tour will complete the “trilogy” for him as a coach.
New Zealander Gatland was first part of the Lions set-up in 2009, as an assistant coach to Ian McGeechan, but was the head coach for the first time in 2013, when the Lions beat Australia 2-1 in the Test series.
The former Wales boss then took charge of the tour squad again in 2017 in New Zealand, where a memorable series with the All Blacks ended 1-1.
Now he hopes to make up for the 2-1 Test defeat to the Springboks in 2009, when he leads the Lions – probably for the last time – to South Africa in July and August.
Gatland named Welshman Alun Wyn Jones as the tour captain on Thursday, and included a few surprise faces in a 37-man squad.
The lessons learnt from the 2009 trip, when Peter de Villiers’ Springboks dominated the visitors physically in the first Test in Durban, is something Gatland wants the 2021 group to heed this time around.
“It’s not gonna be easy. I think it’s probably using the experience from past tours. I know in 2009 when we went there, we played pretty well on the lead-up games, and then we came to the first Test, and the physicality that they brought to the first Test was something that we weren’t quite ready for,” Gatland said during the squad announcement on Thursday.
“And it sort of took us a little bit by surprise, and we made some changes after halftime and made selection changes in the second Test. We came away from there thinking we did a pretty good job in terms of 2009. We’ve restored some respect back into their jersey – that was sort of the first point that we want to sort of get across to achieve.
“But we were disappointed we felt like we could have won the series. So, I think from the sort of looking down at 2013 and 2017, and for me, it’s probably the trilogy and going again back to back to South Africa as head coach.”
In that regard, the 57-year-old mentor was able to get approval to pick an extra, 37th player in the squad, and he suggested that the loose forwards will face arguably the biggest against the Boks, who will have the World Cup-winning loose trio of captain Siya Kolisi, World Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit and Duane Vermeulen – who was the Man of the Match in the final against England – back together again.
“We are particularly looking at our loose forwards, and the attrition that in some of those positions with players. Yeah, just getting an extra number there is probably as a guarantee of another back-up in terms of the strength of the squad,” Gatland said.
“Lots of things to consider… trying to get that balance right between curating a squad that’s going to be incredibly competitive, and also play some good rugby and look to improve as time goes on as well.
“You know they’ve got a great coach Rassie as well, and what they achieved in the World Cup is outstanding. They’re going to be incredibly tough. We know how physical they can be, and we saw that in the World Cup final. But we’ve got to be able to roll up our sleeves when we go out there and in terms of, you know, hopefully match that physicality.
“But also be really positive in the way that we want to play. And we’ve got some exciting players that we think we can do that and, and hopefully get that right balance between the tough work, the set-piece stuff, that physicality, and playing some great rugby.”
First up for the Lions will be a pre-tour camp in Jersey, before they take on Japan at Murrayfield on June 26 ahead of their first match in SA against the Stormers on July 3 at Cape Town Stadium.
The first Test against the Boks is scheduled for July 24 at FNB Stadium, although the entire tour schedule can still change due to Covid-19 protocols, which could result in the games being played in bio-bubbles in two locations – Cape Town and Gauteng.
British and Irish Lions Squad
Backs (16): Josh Adams (Wales), Bundee Aki (Ireland), Dan Biggar (Wales), Elliot Daly (England), Gareth Davies (Wales), Owen Farrell (England), Chris Harris (Scotland), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Conor Murray (Ireland), Ali Price (Scotland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland), Duhan van der Merwe (Scotland), Anthony Watson (England), Liam Williams (Wales).
Forwards (21): Tadhg Beirne (Ireland), Jack Conan (Ireland), Luke Cowan-Dickie (England), Tom Curry (England), Zander Fagerson (Scotland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland), Jamie George (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Jonny Hill (England), Maro Itoje (England), Alun Wyn Jones (Wales, captain), Wyn Jones (Wales), Courtney Lawes (England), Ken Owens (Wales), Andrew Porter (Ireland), Sam Simmonds (England), Rory Sutherland (Scotland), Justin Tipuric (Wales), Mako Vunipola (England), Hamish Watson (Scotland).