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Gatland: 'We can go into the Test series with a lot of confidence'

The Lions head coach was pleased with his team’s display despite defeat to South Africa A.

Owen Farrell and the Lions are clapped off.
Owen Farrell and the Lions are clapped off.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

LIONS BOSS WARREN Gatland was pleased with his side’s performance despite a 17-13 defeat to South Africa A in Cape Town.

The South Africans raced into a 17-3 lead at the half-time break despite their recent Covid-related disruption but the Lions improved in the second half.

It was a timely reminder of the Springboks’ class with the Test series kicking off next week.

“It’s definitely one that we needed,” said Gatland. “We will take a lot out of tonight and it will be good for us building in the next 10 days for that first Test.

“In fairness to South Africa, they started well and were very physical at the breakdown. We came to terms with that, so I’m proud of the boys coming from 17-3 down to come back and finish so strongly in the second half. I thought we were finishing over the top of them.

“It just goes to show that these Test matches are going to be a real arm wrestle and that’s what it was this evening. It was as close to a Test match as you’re going to get.”

The Lions boss was particularly happy with some of the Lions’ work around the set-piece.

“I thought we scrummed outstandingly well and defended their mauls particularly well,” said Gatland. “There’s a few things we need to brush up in terms of accuracy.

“We got over the tryline a couple of times, had a few tries disallowed, and we felt that when we looked back, we had a chargedown where they scored [through Sbu Nkosi] and we’ve allowed [Cheslin] Kolbe to have a little bit of space from a kick where we felt on reflection we probably should have box-kicked rather than kicking to the openside.

warren-gatland Gatland was pleased with the tough test tonight. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“Those are things we can fix up and make sure we don’t give them those chances and opportunities. We’ve done that in a few games, so there will be a lot of learning from that.”

Gatland confirmed that loosehead prop Wyn Jones suffered a stinger in his shoulder but “should be fine,” although a head injury for Liam Williams means he will now have to go through the return-to-play protocols.

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The Lions boss said fullback Stuart Hogg, who hasn’t featured since the Sigma Lions game two weekends ago, was back on the training pitch today and will definitely feature in this Saturday’s clash with the Stormers.

With the Springboks now due to face the Bulls this weekend, they and the Lions have one more game to ready themselves for what should be an epic Test series.

Gatland confirmed that the Lions had held back some of their tactics from tonight’s encounter in the hope of having a few surprises up their sleeve for the Boks.

“There were some plays and things that we’ve been working on that we will work hard on next week,” said Gatland.

“It is important that you want to keep a few things back. We’ve been doing that. That’s the exciting thing about it. The players are pretty positive about that performance and knowing that we can still improve a lot.

“I think it’s going to be an incredibly exciting Test series and one we can go into with a lot of confidence.”

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