Warren Gatland wants new-look Lions to 'rise above shenanigans' in series decider

The world champions dictated the terms of last Saturday’s second Test, slowed the tempo down at every turn and came out 27-9 victors, levelling the series at one game apiece and sending the outcome down to the final encounter this weekend
Warren Gatland wants new-look Lions to 'rise above shenanigans' in series decider

British & Irish Lions head Coach Warren Gatland oversees training ahead of the third Test. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Warren Gatland picked a team to play some rugby on Saturday, now all he needs is referee Mathieu Raynal to help keep the final-Test tempo from dropping to the snail’s pace of that excruciating second game.

Cape Town Stadium may be almost 14,000 kilometres from the nearest Irish television set but, in an empty arena, you could almost hear Lions supporters reaching for their remote controls and clicking the off button as the tourists and South Africa served up a terrible advert for attractive rugby.

Not that the Springboks will care that those viewers who stayed the course were given a dreadful spectacle of stop-start fare intermingled with frayed tempers that produced a 63-minute first half and a second period of 53 with the ball in play for less than 31 minutes.

The world champions dictated the terms of last Saturday’s second Test, slowed the tempo down at every turn and came out 27-9 victors, levelling the series at one game apiece and sending the outcome down to the final encounter this weekend.

There were two teams out there of course and the Lions contributed to the sorry show with two yellow cards and outbreaks of niggle between the two sides hardly helping.

Gatland yesterday made six changes to his starting line-up, restructured his bench and injected some much-needed X-factor into the Lions mix for this must-win game.

Now he wants to see his players rise above such shenanigans, focus on themselves, and play some rugby with some assistance from the match officials in terms of pace of play appreciated.

“There was a bit of niggle,” Gatland agreed. “We spoke about that at half-time — about not getting dragged into that. We need to be focused. That’ll be the message to the players this week.

“I suspect the last thing we need is pushing and grabbing and guys running into people’s backs.

“I can understand the reaction when players see something happen to their own player and a push can spill over.

“But we’ve got to make sure that we tidy that up.

“The length of the game was something — we need to make sure we don’t have so many stoppages. We need the team to keep the flow of the game going.

There have been a number of things off the field that raised the eyebrows, but everyone’s got to try and really focus on ourselves this week.

With such a small amount of ball in play time Gatland recognises his side has to up its game but insists the Boks must not be allowed to set the tempo.

“I think there are two things there. One is looking to keep the ball and also talking to officials about making sure that we keep the game flowing. We felt like that at every scrum there was an injury, slowing the game down.

“I think there was something like 14 minutes of TMO time in the game and we’ve worked pretty hard from a conditioning point of view but it was really, really stop-start and that made it frustrating for us.

“We want to keep the tempo of the game up to get the ball in at our scrums and get the ball in quickly at line-outs, to play and to get a flow. And South Africa at the moment don’t want to do that.

“Everything is so stop-start that it does make it frustrating.

“I know Alun Wyn Jones was talking to the referee on a number of occasions about keeping it going.

“We had stud changes, we had TMO decisions, we had the referee stopping the game for cramp. So that will be one of the things I talk to the referees this week.

We need to make sure we can’t have 60-odd minute halves. I think it’s important that we keep the game flow of the game, and as much from a spectator point of view. We want to see some great rugby played at the weekend.

Lions fans will hope Gatland’s selection can bring that about after seeing their team kept scoreless in the second half and outclassed in the air and at the set-piece while losing its discipline, conceding eight penalties in the last 20 minutes.

Gatland has made changes throughout the backline and in the front row with Conor Murray is one of the players to drop to the bench while Bundee Aki is handed a Lions Test debut at inside centre as Ireland team-mate Robbie Henshaw moves from 12 to 13.

Liam Williams replaces Stuart Hogg at full-back, fellow Welshman Josh Adams is given his Lions Test debut on the right-wing in place of Anthony Watson while Henshaw’s shift to outside centre for the third Test comes at the expense of Chris Harris.

Murray returns to the bench from where he started the series opener behind Ali Price, the two nines switching their roles from the second Test with Dan Biggar retained at fly-half and left wing Duhan van der Merwe keeping his place.

A fit-again Wyn Jones is named at loosehead prop alongside his Wales hooker Ken Owens while lock Adam Beard, back-rower Sam Simmonds and fly-half Finn Russell feature for the first time in the Test Series.

All three are set to win their first Lions cap if required off the bench with Tadhg Beirne, Taulupe Faletau and Owen Farrell dropping out and Russell selected to bring some flair for what could be a crucial endgame.

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