Warren Gatland has cranked up the pressure on the “incredibly desperate” Springboks and claimed the British & Irish Lions have another gear to find as they seek to clinch series victory in South Africa next Saturday.
The Lions struck first blood last Saturday by overturning a nine-point deficit at half-time to seal a 22-17 victory in Cape Town, with Gatland highlighting their defensive dominance in the second half as key. The Springboks have refused to blame their disrupted preparations for flagging after the interval but Gatland has questioned whether South Africa will be able to change things around in the space of just seven days, while predicting further improvements from his side.
Gatland was due to hold a selection meeting with his coaches on Sunday night and is set to announce his side for Saturday’s second Test on Tuesday. Dan Biggar is going through the head injury return to play protocols and Gatland admitted he will consider freshening up his side despite their winning start to the series.
“[Winning the first Test] relieves a bit of pressure but the expectation is still the same and the pressure reverts a little bit to South Africa because they are going to be incredibly desperate,” said Gatland. “We think there is another level in us, [I’m] not sure where that momentum is going to come from [for South Africa]. I think our defence has been excellent on this tour and has continued to improve.
“You’ve got to embrace that expectation. I said to the players beforehand, I get incredibly excited about these big games, finals and Test series, because I love seeing the desire of the top players; how much they want to win these big matches. There is expectation and we should embrace that expectation and expect ourselves to improve from the first Test. Hopefully, we will have won the series by next week.”
“Do we need to introduce a few people just to change things up a bit? I said that the selection was really tough,” the head coach added. “A lot of players put their hands up. We’ve got a meeting as coaches. I don’t know if we’ll select the team; we’ll probably just talk about that. Tomorrow we’ve got some recovery stuff and then I’ll name the team on Tuesday.”
While a strong South Africa A side inflicted the Lions’ only defeat of the tour to date, the Springboks had played just once Test match – against Georgia – since the World Cup prior to Saturday’s series opener with the pandemic wreaking havoc on their preparations. Key players such as the captain Siya Kolisi and Handré Pollard were among those to test positive for Covid-19 and while the Springboks have attempted to play down the impact, the manner in which they tailed off on Saturday would suggest the disruptions took their toll.
Asked if he believes South Africa can put that right in the second Test, Gatland added: “I’m not sure. It’s quite hard in a week. To get conditioned from a running issue, you’ve got to be doing some extras and top-ups. We’ve been doing that throughout the whole tour. During the Test week, you have some hard training sessions but it’s quite hard to top up from a conditioning point of view.
“We saw in 2013 when we had won the first Test and saw the amount that Australia out into that second Test and no just from a physical point of view but from an emotional point of view – I didn’t feel like they could get to the same level for the third Test and that proved to be the case. I would love to win the Test series this week and take the pressure off but with South Africa you know it’s going to be another tight contest.”