VIDEO: The BIG lessons learned from Ellis Park mauling
Astute British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland is mixing up the tactics he is using in the build-up to the three-Test series against South Africa.
The touring Lions swept aside the Johannesburg-based Lions 56-14 in the first match of their South African tour at Ellis Park at the weekend and it left Springbok coach Jacques Nienaber with plenty to ponder.
Ivan van Rooyen, coach of the hosts, dismissed the suggestion that the scoreline reflects the effort and quality of his team.
“If you take the fight the [Johannesburg Lions] team showed and the competitiveness of the game, I feel it was closer and the gap isn’t as big as what the scoreboard suggests,” Van Rooyen said.
However, he admitted the visitors had tweaked their tactics from their warm-up match against Japan in Edinburgh and brought something different to the party.
The pace of the B&I Lions caught their hosts completely off guard – a massive chasm between what they experienced in domestic competitions and their first international opposition.
“Their speed to set, when they want to play again, especially from line-outs, caught us off guard,” Van Rooyen said.
He added that the tourists are much quicker to get into position to execute their plays.
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“They also gave us a different picture, defensively, that what we saw against Japan.
“They were relatively ‘soft’ against Japan with line speed, but they did bring greater linespeed in this game.
“Their decision making at ruck time allows them to slow the ball down or get numbers on their feet with good line speed and physicality.”
The Johannesburg-based coach also said their decision-making on attack was key.
“Their ability to get into space, where they identify space, was also good.”
Van Rooyen admitted the big difference was the speed of execution and the speed of decision-making that the tourists bring, compared to what the local Lions brought to the party.
He said the collisions were “not necessarily” more physical than what they expected, but the “speed of executions” and the “quality of their decision-making” was on another level than what they had experienced against South African teams.
“When we go to Europe [for the United Rugby Championship] you will face on average 10 Test players per team,” Van Rooyen said.
He admitted those are aspects of the game they will need to improve on drastically.
“Once we get better with that, it will assist us domestically as well,” the coach added.
Van Rooyen added that the European teams’ giving game is “a lot more polished”.
“They have a great default kicking game.
“Their kicking from No.9 is very accurate, with great chasers. The wings always get up in the air.
“It is not that we don’t do it in South Africa, the execution of that is more accurate.
“Once you have experienced that, you know what to expect.”
He added that it was 23 Test players in the B&I Lions team that did everything well that put the local Lions under pressure.
Apart from the lessons learnt at Ellis Park, Van Rooyen said are more opportunities for the Bok coaching staff to analyse the B&I Lions – when they face the Sharks, Bulls, South Africa A and the Stormers.
The tourists will face the Sharks (at Ellis Park on Wednesday) and Bulls (at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday) – the strongest two South African franchises – then South Africa A next Wednesday and the Stormers next Saturday (both at the Cape Town Stadium).