VIDEO: B&I Lions issue warning to the Boks
REACTION: British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has issued a warning to South Africa ahead of the start of their three-Test series later this month.
Gatland, speaking at a post-match virtual media briefing after The B&I Lions swept aside the Johannesburg-based Lions 56-14 at the weekend, said they are determined not to leave the Republic empty-handed.
While Gatland had hoped the hosts of the opening match would put up more of a resistance, he knows the opposition will become more formidable as the tour progresses.
The B&I Lions coach had watched South Africa dismiss Georgia 40-9 in Pretoria this past Friday and admitted the Springboks were “a bit rusty”, after not having played for 20 months.
“They [eventually] got some dominance [against Georgia] and when they got ahead they looked to start and play some rugby,” he told @rugby365com.
“There is no doubt they showed what they are capable of doing with their line-out drives [mauls] and strong individual runners.
“That did not surprise us.
“They will definitely improve next week – with combinations and being together.
“The South African coaches, just like us [B&I Lions] will be looking to improve from week to week, as they have more time together training and get a couple of games under the belt.”
He said he hopes the 2021 series would be just as epic as the 2009 and 1997 clashes between the B&I Lions and the Springboks.
“We haven’t come here just to make up the numbers,” he told @rugby365com, adding: “There have been a few journalists writing us off.
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“If we keep improving, we have some players with a lot of experience and players who have had success against South Africa in recent years also.
“It makes the series really exciting.
“I know how motivated this group are at the moment to leave South Africa with a Test series victory.”
Gatland added that he hopes the other three South Africa franchises – Sharks, Bulls and Stormers – along with the SA ‘A’ team would provide his charges with more resistance.
Gatland said the tourists had to adjust their tactics because their opponents at Ellis Park were simply not as good as they had hoped.
“We went in with a bit of a game plan,” Gatland told the media briefing.
“They probably did not pressure us as much on defence as we had expected.
“We were able to change the way we played so that was a pretty good reaction.
“I was just really pleased with the energy out there and the enthusiasm of the guys. It was a really positive start.”
He hoped to avoid the pitfalls of their 2009 tour, when he was an assistant coach.
“In 2009 we did not come up against any of the Test players in the warm-up games and we were probably a little bit underdone,” he said.
“So we are going to have to work really hard in training to get the sort of physicality that is required.
“Some of the games are going to be a little harder, hopefully, but we understand that there are players out of the [franchise] sides because they are in the Springbok camp.”
Gatland said the players who had not started against the Johannesburg-based Lions or Japan last weekend would run on in the next tour match, against the Sharks at Ellis Park on Wednesday.
“I definitely do not want to pigeonhole anyone. Our thoughts at the moment [are] just to keep an open mind.”