VIDEO: Gatland's stinging jab at 'water boy' Erasmus
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has fired the first shots in what will be an intriguing war of words during the build-up to the three-Test series against South Africa.
Gatland, speaking to the media ahead of their final match before the Tests, took exception to some of the comments and behaviour by South Africa’s Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus.
The B&I Lions will face the Stormers at the Cape Town Stadium on Saturday – the last match before they formally get stuck into the Springbok, with the Tests on July 24, 31 and August 7.
Asked about some of the comments attributed to Erasmus – particularly that the B&I Lions are ‘scared’ to play the Springboks a second time this week – Gatland suggested the Bok boss was just trying to “wind the opposition up”.
He then made reference to Erasmus’ on-field role, in which the SA Rugby boss was one of the sideline assistants – delivering messages directly to the players, rather than through other assistants.
“Last [Wednesday] night he was a water boy and running onto the pitch,” Gatland said of the B&I Lions’ 13-17 loss to the SA ‘A’ team, adding: “The thing is, if you are the water boy, running onto the pitch, you have to make sure you are carrying water.
“I didn’t quite understand what his role was.
“You don’t run onto the pitch giving messages and stuff without carrying the water.
“My advice to him is: ‘Make sure you are carrying water’ the next time he does that.”
That wasn’t Gatland’s only gripe with the South African team.
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Gatland again vehemently dismissed the notion that they might play South Africa A at the weekend, making it clear they are preparing to take on the Stormers.
The suggestion of back-to-back matches between an SA ‘A’ (the Springboks in disguise) and the B&I Lions was put forward by Erasmus – who is looking to give his players as much high-intensity game time as possible before the official Tests.
However, Gatland was having none of it, saying that they have their own agenda and will continue their build-up to the Test series according to the planned schedule.
“I don’t see it as our role to prepare them [Springboks] for the Test series,” Gatland quipped.
Gatland was also animated about an incident in the midweek game, when star scrumhalf Francois de Klerk was issued with a yellow card for a dangerous tackle.
He said he was somewhat puzzled by the suggestion from the South African match officials – referees Jaco Peyper and TMO Marius Jonker – that De Klerk did not make contact with an opponent’s head.
“Someone was watching a different picture than what I was,” the often brusque coach told an online media briefing.
“It looked reckless to me,” he said, adding: “[There was] no arms. He hit the arm first, then the shoulder. There was definitely head on head contact.
“We have a meeting with the referees just to get more clarity.
“What we want is clarity, so we get complete consistency.”
*Meanwhile, Gatland said on Thursday that returning captain Alun Wyn Jones – who is set to cap a remarkable recovery from a shoulder injury by playing off the bench against the Stormers – is fit and ready to go.
“He needs 20 minutes,” said Gatland.
“I know he’s travelled and only arrived today [Thursday], but if he’s in contention for next week he needs to have a run.”
Wyn Jones was due to captain the tour party before being injured in a pre-tour match against Japan on June 26 – an injury that initially ruled him out of the tour.
His selection as a replacement could be significant because Gatland said later in Thursday’s press conference that the strength of the B&I Lions’ bench would be crucial in the three Tests against the world champion Springboks.
“The games are going to be very physical so impact off the bench will be important,” said Gatland.