British and Irish Lions: Head coach Warren Gatland says third Test like a ‘cup final’

Lions and South Africa
Tempers flared in the second Test as South Africa drew level in their series with the British and Irish Lions

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says the deciding third and final Test against South Africa next Saturday will be a “cup final”.

“It’s 1-1 in the series and South Africa put a huge amount of emotion into the game,” said Gatland.

“We have the chance next week to hopefully win the series.”

The Lions, who won the first Test 22-17 last week, were leading at half-time before the hosts scored tries through Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am after the break.

Gatland says his players “did not get anything” in the second half.

“We had no momentum or opportunity to play,” he said.

“Nothing at all from any kick returns and we gave away some penalties. They scrummaged pretty well and got some reward for that.

“We were happy with the first half and we felt going into half-time we had carried well and got forward momentum, but we just didn’t achieve anything like that in the second half.”

Erasmus video ‘quite strange’

The build-up to the second Test was dominated by director of South Africa Rugby Rassie Erasmus’s 62-minute video criticising the refereeing in the first Test.

Gatland did not want to say whether he felt the video had impacted on the officiating in the second Test, but he said Erasmus’ approach was “quite strange”.

“We have systems and processes in place, and hopefully World Rugby looks at that and makes sure everyone follows the protocols,” said Gatland.

“We do press conferences to try and give you guys [journalists] some feedback and we deal with referees through World Rugby.

“I just hope it doesn’t get to the stage where people are airing their views on social media and not the proper way.

“I found it quite strange that approach was taken but I won’t be getting involved with it. It is important we keep the integrity of the game as much as we can.”

South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber suggested Erasmus’ video allowed the Springboks to focus on their game out of the spotlight.

“Rassie as our director of rugby had something on his mind, something that we discussed,” said Nienaber. “That’s off-field stuff, and we knew we had to focus on the rugby.

“So hats off to the players. We had a review, a tough week because of that, we were hard on each other.”

Rassie Erasmus
Rassie Erasmus, acting as a water carrier, talks to his team during the second Test in Cape Town

‘Kolbe tackle didn’t look great’

Cheslin Kolbe was fortunate to avoid a red card for a tackle on Conor Murray in the air in the first half, and Gatland said he would speak with referee Ben O’Keefe in the week to “get some feedback”.

“I’m not going to comment on the referee’s decisions,” said Gatland. “We will have a meeting with him this week.

“We will just keep things to ourselves and go through the proper channels.

“It didn’t look great from where I was but the referee decided it was a yellow card.”

Nienaber insisted the officials made the right decision.

“It would take five minutes to sit here and go through that in detail, but there’s a clear process that they have to go through, and I thought it was followed to the ‘T’,” he said.

Gatland also said he was “frustrated” at the stop-start tempo of the game and he would be raising the issue when he speaks to O’Keefe.

‘Toughest week I’ve ever had to face’

South Africa captain Siya Kolisi had admitted feeling disrespected by referee Nic Berry in the first Test, and said he had endured his most testing week as Springboks captain.

“That’s the toughest week I’ve ever had to face as a leader,” said Kolisi.

“But I was just able to focus on the game. We knew what we needed to do, we had the same pressure as the World Cup but a bit more, because it’s only every 12 years that we play the Lions.

“As a team we go back to what we know, system, structures. So now it’s game on for next week.”

Siya Kolisi denies Robbie Henshaw
Siya Kolisi denied Robbie Henshaw a try at the end of the first half with a last-ditch tackle

‘They were fighting for something more’ – what they said

Former South Africa captain Bobby Skinstad told BBC Radio 5 Live: “The Lions will genuinely cling onto the fact they were more organised. They were a much better physical side in the first half. Gatland always has a card up his sleeve.

“I think over the years South Africa have been pummelled into a corner that they have had to fight a way out.

“You have these reference points where you can say ‘South Africa had no chance but they came back and won’. Then you can put up posters and say ‘oh we can be like these guys’.

“This week I gave South Africa seven points, but they managed more. South Africa by three points next week.”

Former British and Irish Lion Ugo Monye told BBC Radio 5 Live: “The only message that matters is the one in the changing room. In elite sport, just winning isn’t enough anymore.

“At the World Cup South Africa were fighting to unify a nation. This time they were fighting for something more.

“I thought Ben O’Keeffe was excellent today. I think he handled the pressure better than any of the players.

“No-one was jubilant on the full-time whistle. Both of these teams are here for business and nothing less than a series win will suffice.”

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