Let’s Play Ball: Why Warren Gatland made so many changes to the Lions starting XV

Warren Gatland believes his gameplan can undo the Springboks in this final rubber at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday — it just needs to be executed much, much better.
Let’s Play Ball: Why Warren Gatland made so many changes to the Lions starting XV

Damian de Allende of Springboks trying to run at Lions tacklers during the first Test. Picture: EJ Langner

1 Get the ball through Lions’ hands

Warren Gatland believes his gameplan can undo the Springboks in this final rubber at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday — it just needs to be executed much, much better.

The Lions’ performance was a real turn-off for supporters back home and neither side’s tactical approach inspired favourable reviews, but South Africa are in no hurry to change their style of play and so the tourists need to find a way around their expertly coached rush defence and eke out some space.

Fly-half Dan Biggar must be given the freedom to get the ball through his backline’s hands and with the physical presence of Bundee Aki installed at 12, the onus for creativity will be on outside centre Robbie Henshaw and a potentially electric attacking threat in the back three. 

Gatland wants his Lions to play more rugby than we’ve seen from them in this test series but was evident in the tour games when the backs were scoring tries for fun. It will not be so easy against the world champions but they have to pick the right moments to take their opportunities.

2 Reclaim the skies

After last Saturday’s reversal of fortune in the second half of the second test, Gatland is intent on reasserting the aerial dominance the Lions enjoyed in the series opener.

The head coach hopes Liam Williams at full-back and the tour’s leading try scorer, wing Josh Adams, can help achieve that goal where Stuart Hogg and Anthony Watson failed.

The Lions will also need to regain the good fortune that is an intrinsic component of a successful kicking game. As Gatland lamented, the luck and the bounce of the ball that carried them through the first three halves of this series suddenly deserted them in last Saturday’s second half. 

The three-time Lions coach needs to become a lucky general again and get some momentum back into his side’s game if this series is to be won.

3 Stop De Allende

Munster supporters know all about the talents Damian de Allende can bring.

Yet the Lions failed to deal sufficiently with him and Gatland has called up Bundee Aki at inside centre, reuniting him with former Connacht buddy Robbie Henshaw, who moves to 13, to negate De Allende’s threat.

They’re not quite Butch and Sundance but if this all-Irish midfield combination can solve the Lions’ issues in the backline and stop the Springboks then the names of Aki and Henshaw will attract star billing after this final Test. Aki, like De Allende is more than just a battering ram with ball in hand, though the South African has been used fairly one-dimensionally in this series.

Aki, though, will be given licence to give some attacking impetus with his footwork, his offloading and by giving Henshaw the chance to prove he is the best 13 in this squad as well.

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