Warren Gatland was not happy with a tackle made by Faf de Klerk
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Lions head coach Warren Gatland turned up the pressure on the Springboks by highlighting South Africa A’s underhand tactics in their 17-13 victory on Wednesday night.
In a pointed message to the officials, Gatland mocked director of rugby Rassie Erasmus’ suspicious role as a water carrier at the Cape Town Stadium as well as calling out scrum half Faf de Klerk’s high tackle on Josh Navidi. Erasmus had already upset the Lions camp in the build-up to the match, described by many as a “fourth Test”, by suggesting they were scared of facing South Africa A for a second time this week as well as revealing Alun Wyn Jones’ imminent return.
After naming his team to face the Stormers on Saturday – when he says “60 to 70 per cent” of Test places are up for grabs – Gatland took the opportunity to return fire at Erasmus’ comments. “I think he was trying to wind us up saying we’re scared,” Gatland said. “Sometimes he’s capable of doing that. Last night he was the water boy running on the pitch – if you’re the water boy running onto the pitch you’ve got make sure you’re carrying water! I didn’t understand what his role was – you don’t run onto the pitch giving messages as the waterboy without carrying water. My advice to him is to make sure he’s carrying water next time he does that.”
Just before halftime, scrum half De Klerk, one of 11 World Cup winners starting for South Africa ‘A’, appeared to make contact with the head of Lions flanker Navidi. After a long TMO review, referee Jaco Peyper decided to administer a yellow rather than a red card leaving Gatland perplexed. He will also seek a meeting with the officials to ensure there are not further fluctuations in the interpretation of what constitutes a high tackle.
Bundee Aki (C) of the British and Irish Lions evades the tackle by Faf de Klerk (L) and Malcolm Marx (R)
“I can’t understand where the comments were that there was no contact to the head,” Gatland said. “Someone was watching a different picture to me. I thought it looked reckless to me. No arms and he’s hit the arm first and then the shoulder, but there’s definitely head on head contact. We’ve got a meeting with the referees tomorrow just to get a bit of clarity on that. What we want is clarity so that we get complete consistency.”
In the final warm-up match before the three-match Test series begins on July 24, Gatland hands starts to full back Stuart Hogg and centre Robbie Henshaw, who returns from two weeks out with a hamstring injury. Hogg, who captains the team, has spent much of the past week isolating in his hotel after being picked up as a close contact of a Covid-19 positive. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” Hogg said. “Honestly, it was a horrendous few days.”
Unlike previous Lions tours, the Test XV still appears to be in a state of flux just nine days out from the first Test with the defeat to the Springbok ‘A’ side further muddying the waters. Even current tour captain Conor Murray’s place is not safe with Gatland stating scrum half Ali Price “absolutely” has an opportunity to earn a start.
“It (the Test team) is probably fluid in terms of 60 or 70 per cent,” Gatland said. “We’ve got some thoughts on where we are, we’ll see some players have a hit-out this weekend, look at some of those combinations.” Gatland also started that a 10-12 combination of Dan Biggar and Owen Farrell is still an option despite them not featuring together in the warm-up matches. “We have got other options and definitely that 10-12 combination, we know with his experience Owen could easily fit into that 12 position,” Gatland said. “It is not something that because we haven’t used it, we wouldn’t potentially consider.”
Biggar and flanker Courtney Lawes both miss out for a second successive game, but Gatland confirmed that they were being held back so they are fresh for the start of next week.