SA A against the British & Irish Lions during the Castle Lager Li​ons Series at Cape Town Stadium on July 14 2021. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES
SA A against the British & Irish Lions during the Castle Lager Li​ons Series at Cape Town Stadium on July 14 2021. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER/SUNDAY TIMES

British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland reached for the truism that you learn more in defeat than victory after his team’s clash against SA A in Cape Town.

The Lions started slowly but played with more cohesion and purpose and finished the stronger team by the time the final whistle sounded with the score 17-13 in the South Africans’ favour.

Still‚ the visiting coach was sanguine. “I thought we got more out than SA‚” said Gatland “The players were pretty bullish in the changing room.”

While Wednesday’s defeat was the Lions’ first on this tour‚ Gatland said he was proud of the way his team came back from 17-3 down at halftime.

Aided early in the second half by an SA A team down to 13 men as a result of yellow cards‚ the tourists had their hosts on the back foot for the remainder of the match.

“We finished the stronger team and they wilted a bit‚” said Gatland. “We got over their line a couple of times and had two tries disallowed and we had a kick charged down, which enabled them to score a try. There were also one or two decisions which did not go our way.”

Though the line-up the South Africans used for this game is much like their likely team for the first Test‚ Gatland perhaps has more leeway to find combinations before the first game of the series next Saturday.

Crucial will be the arrival of original tour captain Alun Wyn Jones, who has miraculously recovered from a shoulder injury he sustained against Japan before the team flew out.

Ireland’s Conor Murray was handed the reins but the captaincy issue will be addressed after Jones arrives in Cape Town. “We will sit down with him and Conor and decide‚” Gatland said.

Irish hooker Ronan Kelleher will join Jones as late additions to the touring squad.

While Rassie Erasmus‚ who coached the SA A team in the absence of Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber‚ believes there are tactical details the Boks still need to iron out‚ Gatland too is planning for a revision of their blueprint over the next week or so.

Not that they completely showed their hand on Wednesday evening, though. “There are some plays that we have been working on and we will keep working on them leading up to the Test matches. It’s important to keep a few things back.”


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