LIONS FAN VIEW: To survive next week’s frenzy, Warren Gatland must make changes

THE LIONS FAN VIEW: We wounded the Springboks with the ultimate insult – outsmarting them on their own turf – but to survive next week’s madness, Warren Gatland must make changes, including starting Liam Williams

  • The British and Irish Lions came from behind to beat South Africa 22-17
  • Warren Gatland surprises by two or three of the inclusions in the starting lineup
  • It was a two-half game with the Lions in the second 40 . improved
  • Liam Williams should start next week’s test for Stuart Hogg
  • The Lions need to be faster and take out their aimless kicks and penalties
  • If they can, they can wrap up the series against South Africa next week

When Warren Gatland announced his starting grid for the first test, I was quite surprised by two or three of the inclusions. I didn’t see Elliot Daly start and I thought Liam Williams would make the selection just ahead of Stuart Hogg.

Gatland has long been a fan of Taulupe Faletau, so it was interesting not even to see him on the bench. The Springboks must have felt confident going into the first test after the A-team performance and subsequent win against the Lions.

The expression ‘a game of two halves’ describes this meeting perfectly. The first half was not good for the Lions. The Springboks brought the physicality we have long associated with them.

It was a game of two halves as the Lions came from behind to beat South Africa 22-17

Warren Gatland must make changes to next week's test to survive next week's madness

Warren Gatland must make changes to next week’s test to survive next week’s madness

Liam Williams, who was unlucky not to start, has to fill in for Stuart Hogg in the next Test

Liam Williams, who was unlucky not to start, has to fill in for Stuart Hogg in the next Test

They overpowered the Lions on the outage with fewer numbers. The back row of the Lions of Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry and Jack Conan were anonymous. Curry played hard but made a few mistakes, including a late hit on Springbok scrum-half, Faf de Klerk, which led to a penalty.

Maro Itoje was great in the ruck. He won possession twice in quick succession. The second was a timely theft. The South Africans had worked their way up the field until the lock got their hands on the ball and put an end to their efforts.

But the Gatland men seemed flat and gave away seven penalties in the first half. Both sides are blessed with talented kickers. The Lions continued to give the Springboks fly-half Handre Pollard shots on target, and he continued to extend their lead.

I had Dan Biggar as my base 10. He got a penalty in the first half but didn’t seem like his normal commander and his game management was not good.

Dan Biggar didn't seem like his normal commander during a tough first half for the Lions

Dan Biggar didn’t seem like his normal commander during a tough first half for the Lions

There was a lethargy in the team, but as halftime approached there was a glimpse of what could be. I said in my last article that the Lions had to move the ball. They started doing just that and center Robbie Henshaw made a great break through the defense of the Springboks.

A crucial factor in the second half for both teams would be fitness. The Lions have played up some weak opponents in the run-up to the Test, but they have been gaining regularly. The Box, on the other hand, is not.

Their build-up was more disrupted than the Lions, and that started to show in the second half. Suddenly, the Lions came alive, and they gave the Springboks the ultimate insult by pushing them over their line to score whore Luke Cowan-Dickie.

South Africa hit back with a try, but it was disallowed for offside. Shortly afterwards, Lawes made a break in the field. The flight ignited him. After a sleepy first half, he was full of energy and unstoppable in the second.

South Africa rallied again and this time they scored via De Klerk. Gatland started making the changes by bringing in Mako Vunipola, Ken Owens and Hamish Watson. When Kyle Sinckler came to complete the front row changes, the dominance in the scrum was remarkable.

The Lions came forward on the scoreboard and as the Boks started to get tired, the Lions got stronger. Owen Farrell took over for Biggar, who had left the field for a head injury investigation.

Farrell kicked a penalty in the 76th minute to make the score 17-22. The Lions won the first test, but there are areas for improvement and some victorious players may not start the second.

Gatland should consider the possibility of introducing some of his bankers into the starting lineup. Does he want to start Vunipola, Owens and Sinckler on the front row or repurpose them as impact players? They were hugely effective when they came up. I’m a big fan of Daly, but I didn’t have him in my early 15s.

There are areas for improvement for the Lions and some players may not start the second test

There are areas for improvement for the Lions and some players may not start the second test

I think he struggled in the first test and I want Chris Harris to get a test start. Lawes should start again, but the Lions need his second half performance from the start.

Farrell could start if Biggar doesn’t recover in time. This could mean Marcus Smith is promoted to the bench. I think Williams will start in the second test.

Hogg did nothing wrong, but Williams is too good to be left out of all three tests. The Lions need to be faster and eliminate the aimless kicks and penalties. If they can arrange these areas, the series will wrap up next weekend.

But as Sir Ian McGeechan told the Lions in 1997, ‘when an animal is injured, it returns in rage’. This Springboks team will be no different and the Lions must be ready to take on that challenge.

The Lions need to be faster this Saturday and take out their aimless kicks and penalties

The Lions need to be faster this Saturday and take out their aimless kicks and penalties

If the Lions improve in these areas, they could seal the series against South Africa next week

If the Lions improve in these areas, they could seal the series against South Africa next week

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