Cape Town – British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland said a change of tactics helped his team beat the Springboks 22-17 in the first Test in Cape Town on Saturday.
Gatland said he was not concerned about his team trailing 12-3 at half-time. He felt the half had been evenly contested and could have been closer if two penalty kicks had been goaled.
“I just told the players, let’s be patient and keep our composure, the opportunities will come,” he said.
Crucially, he advised them only to kick at goal from a penalty if it was “an easy three points”.
Otherwise, he said, “Kick for touch and put them under pressure in their 22”.
It was precisely that which led to the Lions’ only try four minutes after the break, with hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie going over after a drive from a lineout.
“The try from the maul was pretty important, then the scrums started to stabilise and we got a bit of dominance there,” said Gatland.
“Once we started to take it through some phases, particularly when we got on the front foot, they conceded a number of penalties.”
Gatland acknowledged that “It was a really tough, tight Test match. The bounce of the ball and a couple of tight calls might have affected the result.”
But he thought the Lions were the better team in the second half. “We got stronger and stronger,” he said. “I thought the last few minutes were excellent.”
Springboks coach Jacques Nienaber said a change of dominance in the kicking game in the second half was a crucial factor.
“We got the rewards in the first half and in the second half I thought they dominated the air. That gave them territory and broken play and we struggled from that.”
Nienaber said he had no problem with the TV match official (TMO) decisions which denied the Springboks two tries, particularly full-back Willie le Roux being offside.
“When we saw the try as coaches we thought it was going to be unbelievably tight,” he said. “I completely trust and agree with the TMO call. That’s their profession and that’s what they are good at.
“It could have gone either way. Sometimes those inches go for you and you score a brilliant try from a counter-attack and sometimes it goes against you.”
Nienaber said poor discipline cost the Springboks in the second half.
“The sad thing is that we actually highlighted that at half-time.”
Springboks captain Siya Kolisi said the mauls were an area which the team needed to work on. He agreed with Nienaber that they had lost the aerial battle in the second half.
“Balls that we normally get we didn’t get today. Discipline was also a big thing. We’ll recover tomorrow and start working on Monday on things we need to fix.”
Gatland and Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones agreed that the second Test at the same venue next Saturday would be another major challenge.
“To beat the world champions in their own backyard is very special,” said Gatland. “Next week is going to be even tighter and tougher.”
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