Gatland tells Lions to get the job done against 'desperate' Springboks
The Lions emerged 22-17 winners from a tense first Test and know that another successful evening at Cape Town Stadium would seal a first triumph against the Springboks since 1997.
Gatland has made three changes to give his side more power in defence and structure in anticipation of a backlash from the world champions, giving starts to scrum-half Conor Murray, centre Chris Harris and prop Mako Vunipola.
A defeat for the Lions would usher in a decider on the final weekend of the tour, but Gatland wants the contest settled at the earliest available opportunity.
“South Africa are going to be desperate. They’re desperate to stay in the series and we’ve got a chance of winning the series on Saturday,” Gatland said.
“We’ve spoken to the players about that, making sure that they’re mentally right because you don’t want to be using your get-out-of-jail card, which is going to the third Test.
“You want to make the most of the opportunity we’ve created by winning the first Test and hopefully seal the series on Saturday.”
Gatland has adjusted his starting XV in response to the tactics used by South Africa in the opener – direct running, a kicking barrage, forcing penalties and building scoreboard pressure.
Out goes Elliot Daly, whose attacking skills found no outlet in the Cape Town trenches, and in comes the “incredibly direct” Harris, a pre-tour bolter who has become one of the stars of the trip.
Harris will stiffen the midfield and by swapping Ali Price for Murray, Gatland is signalling that the Lions will limit their ambition until later in the game when the Scotland scrum-half’s energy and enterprise can make an impact.
Completing the changes is Vunipola’s promotion at loosehead prop ahead of Rory Sutherland as reward for the impression he made from the bench when he successfully addressed concerns over his scrummaging.
Daly, Price and Sutherland feature among the replacements, where number eight Toby Faletau makes an appearance at the expense of Hamish Watson.
“There won’t be a lot of space, particularly in that first 20 or 30 minutes. We saw how aggressive South Africa were – in the first opportunity we had to attack, Elliot Daly was hit in contact,” Gatland said.
“They’re going to be incredibly aggressive and they’ll run hard, so it’s about staying in that arm wrestle.
“They play very little rugby in their own half so it’s a territory battle and we’ve got to make sure that if we’re 6-6 at 30 minutes or 9-6 ahead going into half-time, then that puts us in a pretty good place.
“Our focus is on us starting well in the game and making sure the game management is really good.
“We have been happy with the way we have finished in the second half of both the South Africa ‘A’ game and first Test. We felt strong. Potentially the game might then open up.”
Gatland has made it clear that if the Lions fail to clinch the series on Saturday, then more radical surgery to the team will be needed.
“If we are four or five per cent off mentally, then it’s going to be a long day for us,” the Kiwi said.
“If we get it mentally right then we have a chance of winning this series, but if we’re not and we lose the second Test, then you’ll probably see a number of changes going into the third Test.”
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