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'Play touch rugby': Springboks hit back at Lions niggle play claim

By Liam Heagney

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Springboks assistant Mzwandile Stick has taken issue with claims this week by the Lions that the South Africans deliberately slowed down the play in last weekend’s second Test in Cape Town, delays that resulted in the halves taking a respective one hour, two minutes and 30 seconds and 53 minutes and 26 seconds to play. 

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The ball in play time for the second Test opening half was also just 16 minutes and 28 seconds, a figure reduced to 14 minutes and one second in the second period, and comments by Lions boss Warren Gatland that he would take up his slow play frustrations at this week’s pre-third Test referees meeting were further inflamed by what Courtney Lawes had to say when he fronted media on Friday morning.  

Lions back-rower Lawes antagonising claimed: “It’s going to be tough and there needs to be a conscious effort to stay out of that dog fight and niggle because I imagine that is what they are going to want to bring again. We need to make a conscious effort to leave it alone and get back to what we want to do, which is trying to bring tempo to the game.

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“They can throw the handbags around as much as they like as long as we can get that ball out and play some rugby. We can’t get too caught up in the niggle and scrapping because it just slows down the game and it doesn’t really help us. We like a high-tempo game – we are a fit team, we want to run around, we want the ball in hand so we need to try and speed the game up as much as we can.”

Springboks backs coach Stick didn’t respond kindly on Friday afternoon when these claims from the Lions were put to him. “I am not too sure when you say we were slowing the game down. Once again, remember the person who is in charge is the referee and if there are TMO calls the refs need more time to make decisions according to what they see on the screen. That has got nothing to with us.

“When the ball is in play all our players make sure they give their best and I don’t recall one of our players doing anything intentionally to slow the play down. People must understand these days that the TMO is also part of the game. If it takes two minutes to make a decision they need two minutes, unfortunately. That is not in our control. The Springboks team, we control the ball in play, we control the tempo on how we want to play the game, so if they [the Lions] want to lift the tempo up that is their plan.

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“If we want to slow the ball down and make it boring we will do that as other people are saying we are playing boring rugby,” continued Stick, who last week used his Springboks media conference to attack Gatland regarding criticism of TMO Marius Jonker.

“But from our side, we don’t go into a game intentionally to say we are going to slow things down and if the British and Irish Lions want to play touch rugby, jeez that would be nice for us. They are more than welcome to do so. We are not going to decide what they must do and also they are not going to tell us how to play the game, we will just play according to our strengths.”

Springboks skipper Siya Kolisi added: “We play what is in front of us. Whatever is happening in the game we will be involved… you can’t leave a man behind. That is just our system and that is what we believe in.”

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'Play touch rugby': Springboks hit back at Lions niggle play claim

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