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Lions respond to attack criticism, set points target to win series

By Liam Heagney

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Lions attack coach Gregor Townsend has reacted to criticism about his Test team’s level of potency so far in their series versus the Springboks and has also suggested the points target that must be reached in Cape Town on Saturday if the tour is to be successfully concluded by Warren Gatland’s side. 

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The Lions won the opening Test 22-17 but were blown away in last weekend’s second Test rematch, losing 9-27 to spark fears that having scored just one try to South Africa’s three so far in the series that they don’t have the blueprint to sufficiently damage the Springboks. 

In 15 matches since the start of 2019, South Africa have conceded just a dozen tries while in eleven visits to the Springboks 22 last weekend the Lions came away with a paltry six points from two penalty kicks. They are statistics that should worry even the most optimistic of Lions fans but Townsend has faith that things will finally click in this weekend’s tour-ending finale.

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“We have got to create more, that is for sure,” admitted Townsend, about whom there were high Lions hopes given Scotland’s Six Nations wins away to England and France earlier this year, victories that helped to seal his April appointment as one of Gatland’s most important assistant coaches. 

“If you create opportunities, whether that comes through errors in the defence that can get your linebreaks and lead to tries, it gives you more chance of winning the game but you may create more just through pressure, through fatiguing the opposition, through getting penalties and in these tight Test matches that could be enough to win the game. 

“We did that well in the first Test, especially in the second half of that first Test, and we were building into that sort of performance in the first half of the second Test but we didn’t do it for 80 minutes. We know we have to control the game more by moving South Africa around, draining them of energy whenever we can. That would be an area for us to improve for sure.”

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By way of assisting that ambition to drain South African energy, the Lions have spoken to the referees ahead of the series decider to try and ensure there isn’t a repeat of last weekend’s timing issues. According to Opta, the ball in play time for the second Test opening half was just 16 minutes and 28 seconds, a figure reduced to 14 minutes and one second in the second period. The halves also took a respective one hour, two minutes and 30 seconds and 53 minutes and 26 seconds to finish. 

“We have made the point that we don’t want unnecessary stoppages,” explained Lions assistant Townsend. “You keep the tempo and you keep the flow of the game up through your own accuracy, through your own decision making, but when the game stops, whether it is for a scrum, a lineout, you want it restarted as quickly as possible. Everybody watching at home does so I’d like to think and hope it will be a shorter game this weekend than last weekend. 

“There was a difference between first and second half,” he added about the Lions’ lack of potency. “First half we got those opportunities. If we had that try that ended up being disallowed just before half time that would have been a reflection of the pressure we had built up on the opposition. There was another one in the first half that if we kept hold of the ball, we got a penalty advantage and a couple of rucks later the ball was killed and we went back to the original penalty. 

“We know you won’t get a huge amount of opportunities in these test matches so to do all you can to get seven points would make a massive difference. In the second half, we just couldn’t get the possession, we weren’t accurate enough with the possession and South Africa dominated in a couple of areas so that made it really tough for us to score those points. 

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“It’s a Test match and you are playing the world champions, I don’t think we’d used the type of phrase of blowing them open,” he continued when quizzed about South Africa’s defensive ability to shut teams down. “For me personally and I hope the team feel this as well, we have got the ability to score tries, the ability to put the South African defence under pressure which can open up opportunities later in games or can lead to three points, six points.

“I believe that to win a Test match against a quality opposition you have got to get a 20-points or more scoreline to have more control on the outcome. We have got to do that through all aspects, whether that is the set-piece, our defence getting us penalties and the ball back but in particular attack, creating and finishing off opportunities.”

Having made six changes to their starting XV, four in the backline, the Lions will start with the same No10 to No15 backs who cut Japan open in the early stages of the pre-tour match in Edinburgh in late June. “That is probably more a coincidence (than design),” said Townsend.

“The guys played really well that day against Japan. The players played really well on tour and we know there are a couple of players in this backline, two or three that have waited for the opportunity to play in the Test match, to start a Test match, and they are getting it Saturday. We have had a lot of competition for places right throughout our squad and we feel this is the right 15, right 23 to win a game and win a Test series.”

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Lions respond to attack criticism, set points target to win series

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