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The two Springboks threats Gatland believes are big Lions work-ons

By Liam Heagney

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Warren Gatland has identified his two biggest opposition work-ons next week as the Lions prepare to shut down the world champion Springboks when they clash in the opening Test of the three-game series, adding how pleased he has been with his team’s defence so far on tour in not conceding a single try to either a maul or a pick-and-go drive five yards out from their line. 

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The Lions wrapped up their preparation match schedule in Cape Town on Saturday with a comfortable 49-3 win over the Stormers, the victory being their fourth in their five matches on South African soil ahead of the eagerly awaited Test series. 

Their sole defeat came in last Wednesday’s 17-13 loss to a star-studded South Africa A team who on Saturday, fielding an XV showing twelve changes, went on to lose 17-14 to the Bulls, the franchise whose July 10 match with the Lions was cancelled due to a virus outbreak. 

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The two South Africa A games, coupled with the July 2 Test win over Georgia, marked the end of the Springboks’ three-match preparation to face the Lions following 20 months without playing since their November 2019 World Cup final win over England.

That activity left Gatland with enough of an insight as to what the Lions will face from the Springboks in the next three Saturdays and he outlined what aspects of South African play will most keep his squad busy in the coming days on the training ground. 

“We are expecting a lot of runners off nine so we have got to match the Springboks with that physicality coming off nine and getting some go-forward. That is one area we are going to work on, and just how much they are prepared to kick the ball, whether that is Faf (de Klerk), or Morne Steyn or Handre Pollard or whoever at 10, we expect a lot of kicking in the game,” said Gatland about the Springboks.

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“With a lot of teams you might be 20-odd kicks in a game but with the Springboks, it goes up to 40-odd. It’s an area we need to do a lot of work this week in terms of our aerial game and our kick chase and getting back and supporting players and being prepared to stay in that arm wrestle because we are expecting a lot of kicks.”

The Lions head into the Test series having conceded just ten tries in their five preparation matches on South African soil, two in their win over versus Sigma Lions, six across their two matches against the Sharks, two versus South Africa A and none in their final outing against the Stormers.  

What enthused Gatland most about this defensive effort was that the tries they have conceded have not been in the areas of play which the South African teams are traditionally very potent at. “With our defence, we have kept improving. We haven’t conceded a pick-and-go try on this tour yet and that to me has been a pleasing thing.

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“It’s one of the strengths of South African rugby. When they get five yards out from the line, whether that is with the maul or with their pick-and-go, they tend to convert on a number of occasions and we haven’t conceded a try in that area yet. But it is an area we will still keep working hard on in the week making sure we hopefully won’t concede there.”

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The two Springboks threats Gatland believes are big Lions work-ons

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