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‘Next Test will be tougher,’ warns Warren Gatland after Lions stun South Africa

·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images

Warren Gatland warned his British & Irish Lions to beware a desperate Springbok backlash in next Saturday’s second Test as the world champions look to try to force their way back into the best-of-three series.

Gatland described his side’s second-half comeback from 12-3 down as “special” but has made clear a series victory is still a long way from assured. “They’ll be hurt from this because they’re an incredibly proud nation and world champions,” said Gatland. “Next week will be even bigger and tougher I would expect.

Related: British & Irish Lions rally in second half to win first Test against South Africa

“The bounce of the ball could have gone any way for both teams. If a couple of calls had been different that might have affected the result. It was a really tough, tight Test match. But thankfully we’ve come from behind and finished really strongly. I thought we got stronger and stronger as the second half went on.”

In Australia in 2013 Gatland’s side were also narrowly victorious in the first Test only to lose the second before clinching the series in a final decider in Sydney. “I expect they will be a lot stronger in the next two matches,” said Gatland.

“But we feel like there’s an awful lot more in us too. From a conditioning point of view it looks like we’re getting stronger and are able to keep the intensity and the pace going for the whole 80 minutes. That’s a really pleasing sign of how hard we’ve worked over the last six weeks or so. The impact of our bench was probably more significant than theirs.”

“The message at half-time was, ‘Look, we are still in this arm-wrestle even though we are down, just keep our composure.’ We didn’t think they’d create a lot of attacking opportunities. In that last passage of play we were coming off the line, making big tackles and they weren’t going anyway. To beat the world champions first up in their own back yard is really, really special.”

South Africa’s coach, Jacques Nienaber, blamed his side’s downfall on losing the aerial battle in the second half rather than their Covid-disrupted buildup. “The kicking game was won by us in the first half and we got the rewards, but the second half was a different story,” he said. “They won that battle and it gave them territory. We had to scramble and could not cope.

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“Our discipline also wasn’t great in the second half. The sad thing is that we actually highlighted that at half-time and said we needed to make a step up there. And obviously we didn’t.” He refused to offer any criticism of the South African TMO, Marius Jonker, but it was his intervention that judged Willie le Roux offside, denying the Boks full-back the try.

“I thought it was tight. As soon as we saw the try was given we, as coaches, thought it was going to be extremely tight,” said Nienaber of the decision. “But I completely agree with and trust the decision they made. That is their profession, that is what they are good at. It could have gone both ways in my opinion, but I 100% agree with the TMO decision.

“Sometimes those inches go for you and you score a brilliant try from a counterattack and sometimes it goes against you.”

Nienaber, however, believes the series is still salvageable over the next fortnight. “Definitely it is. We have to salvage it. We will look at the video and there are definitely things we can sort out.”

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