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'He's got something up his sleeve': How the Springboks view Gatland and his 2021 Lions

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by INPHO/Dan Sheridan via Lions)

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Rassie Erasmus believes the type of player Warren Gatland has included in his 2021 Lions squad suggests that the Springboks will encounter a very different type of a contest compared to the slugfest they fought out in Japan when they defeated Gatland’s old Wales side in the 2019 World Cup semi-final. The low-frills 19-16 showdown from two years ago in Yokohama was a forgettable affair as both sides tried to bludgeon each other into submission rather than look to entertain or take any risks. 


What Wales did was eventually not enough for them to squeeze past the Springboks and Erasmus now believes Gatland will alter his approach with the best talent from the four home nations at his disposal for a Test series that will begin in Cape Town on July 24.   

“Even if I didn’t rate him high I would say on this interview I rate him high because it would be stupid to say he is not a good coach, but luckily I don’t have to lie,” said Springboks director of rugby Erasmus when asked for his thoughts on Gatland and what their relationship as rival coaches is like.   

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“We’re not friends, I don’t go and have a barbecue with him when I see him but he is one of those guys who I have always felt has the right intention when coaching… I enjoy him as a person and then we have got very similar mindsets in terms of coaching. That is why it is always such a weird tussle when we play out there. 

“But the way Warren has picked this side and the way he has picked his support staff and his assistant coaches and the way he selected the squad with the Scottish backline players and Gregor (Townsend) in there, I think he has got something up his sleeve. I don’t think we’re going to see this battle of attrition, grinding it out like the semi-final in the World Cup. 

“He has got other plans and with the tour also finishing with two high veldt games and with the loose forwards he has picked, he has got a few plans. And because he has done it so much coaching the Lions, he knows what are the pitfalls in getting guys to be aligned very quickly. The way he selected his team, his captain, his support staff especially his coaches and then his attack coach combined with who the Scottish guys are, we will definitely see a bit of changing in his game plan but he might be just throwing us some bait, I’m not sure.”


Jacques Nienaber, who will be the Springboks head coach for the series after his promotion from defence coach, added: “He [Gatland] has selected a well-balanced side. How many full-backs has he selected? If you look at one side of things you can go Stuart Hogg, Elliot Daly, Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and the others as well, Josh Adams and Louis Rees-Zammit, they are all good under the high ball. Duhan van der Merwe has improved a hell of a lot. 

“If you look at that side of things, they can go the aerial route but then, like Rassie rightly said, if you look at the magic of a Finn Russell, Ali Price, a good combination there, he has selected a well-balanced side. From my perspective, I agree with Rassie. We chatted about it on Thursday – it literally looks like he can go coast to coast and then adapt and go with a massive kicking game, going with a nine that can kick, a ten and if he plays (Owen) Farrell at 12 he has a kicking 12. 

“He can go with a kicking game and he can go with a running game, I’m not sure. Like Rassie said, maybe he is just throwing us bait. I’m not sure what he can go with but it’s a well-balanced side. He can go either or so, it will be a nice challenge.”




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