The British and Irish Lions may have suffered their first loss of the 2021 tour, but head coach Warren Gatland said his players were in a ‘bullish’ mood.
The New Zealander says his team are “confident that we can handle whatever they throw at us in the future.”
But is this a false confidence? Or can the Lions really hope for defeat? Here’s a look at what we learned from the dress rehearsal for the test.
South Africa remains world champion
Much has been said that South Africa has played only one test – against Georgia on July 2 – since winning the World Cup in November 2019.
There were also questions about how the team would cope after more than 20 positive Covid-19 cases in the camp, with Captain Siya Kolisi still isolates, and the whole team who recently spent six days confined to their hotel rooms.
But the so-called A-team – which included seven of the teams that started the World Cup final – was exactly as any Springbok team should be.
South Africa smothered the Lions with their physique, encumbering visitors with a fierce defense.
It took the brute force of Wyn Jones to get the Lions on their only try – and the prop received a shoulder kick in the process.
Lions captain Conor Murray felt they had finally risen to the challenge, saying, “We knew what kind of defense the Boks were going to bring tonight.
“It’s one thing to say it, but it’s different to handle it in real situations. We learned by running tonight and we corrected it there. “
Watson and Curry neck and neck in the Test race
There is only one warm-up game left before the first test on July 24 and Tom Curry took the opportunity to win the Seven’s jersey.
He faces stiff competition from Scotsman Hamish Watson, who impressed in the opening matches.
Curry had 11 tackles against South Africa A, a team record, as well as eight runs and a turnover, leaving Gatland in a sticky position.
“Tom Curry was great tonight, but there’s no doubt Hamish Watson had a great tour as well,” said the head coach.
“It’s going to be a tough selection call. ”
Gatland went on to say that there would be “a lot” of tough selection decisions, qualifying the bottom three and top spot as particularly competitive areas.
He added that even Returning Captain Alun Wyn Jones’ the place in the starting XV was not a formality, a point underlined by the warlike performance of Maro Itoje in the second row.
Don’t kick Kolbe
It’s a lesson many have already learned, but Elliot Daly momentarily forgot.
The England full-back, who has impressed so far in the center of the tour, kicked Cheslin Kolbe and the World Cup star happily took advantage of it.
The wing slipped through the tightest gaps between Chris Harris and Louis Rees-Zammit and sent the ball to captain Lukhanyo Am for a try.
Gatland said “on second thought” that he would have preferred a box-kick, adding: “There are a few points that we need to revisit in terms of inaccuracy.”
Rugby director Rassie Erasmus has said South Africa will play another warm-up game against the Bulls on Saturday. Hopefully the provincial team learns from the Lions’ mistakes.
The Lions bench brings warmth
Although South Africa A had a terrific starting lineup, the Lions had the upper hand on the bench where Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola and Zander Fagerson formed a front row that would shake most test teams.
Gatland started using his substitute forwards after halftime, and while they couldn’t close the gap, the Lions were able to keep the Springboks scoreless for the second 40.
“In the game right now it’s extremely important that guys come off the bench and make a difference,” said Gatland.
“Players who can step off the bench and give you energy, experience and the ability to change a game. “
Gatland won’t be a water boy
With the isolation of Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber, Erasmus took over the water boy-dressed team on the sideline.
It was an approach Gatland described as “a bit interesting”, before asserting that he would not join Erasmus in the thick of the action.
“You won’t see me doing this,” he said.
“Different shots for different people. It’s a bit strange that South Africa’s rugby director is also a waterboy. “