British and Irish Lions: Warren Gatland says players confident for series despite South Africa ‘A’ loss

Warren Gatland believes the British and Irish Lions will get more out of Wednesday’s 17-13 loss to South Africa ‘A’ in Cape Town than their opponents.

The home side led 17-3 at half time, but the Lions were on top for much of the game after the break. However, some poor execution in the home side’s 22 meant they could not make their dominance at the scrums and hefty possession count.

Despite a first loss on tour, head coach Gatland was in an upbeat mood after what had been dubbed the unofficial fourth Test due to the strength of what was ostensibly a South African ‘A’ side.

“The players are pretty bullish in the changing room, they are confident they can deal with whatever they (South Africa) throw at us in the test series,” Gatland said.

“There are things we can easily fix in terms of what we gave to them to keep them in the game.

“The players are pretty positive about that performance and know we can still improve a lot. We would have got a lot more out of tonight than South Africa.

“The series is going to be a real arm wrestle and that was as close to a Test match as you are going to get.”

The cancellation of the second of South Africa’s warm-up games against Georgia meant the home side’s match-day squad featured numerous players who were part of the Springboks’ World Cup-winning team in 2019.

And 10 days out from the the first of a three-match Test series, Gatland believes the Lions’ opponents have shown their hand in terms of the way they will play.

“They did a lot of things we expected from them: box-kicking, they were aggressive and direct with their running,” Gatland said. “But we scrummed outstandingly well and defended their mauls particularly well.

“There are a few things we need to brush up on in terms of our accuracies and we had a couple of tries turned down. But those are things we can fix.”

Gatland revealed Liam Williams will have to go through concussion protocols over the next week before he is cleared to play in the first Test on July 24 after being forced off in the first half.

However, he welcomed the arrival in South Africa of Alun Wyn Jones on Thursday following the Welshman’s quick recovery from a dislocated shoulder suffered in the win over Japan at Murrayfield barely three weeks ago.

Gatland will sit down with Jones and current tour captain Conor Murray to decide who will lead the team, but says it is no foregone conclusion that the former will start in the Test series.

“He has had no rugby in the last three weeks, only training,” Gatland said. “It will be a conversation about what we do with the team.

“In the game at the moment, having guys come off the bench (in matches) is important. Our bench was pretty good today – there are no guarantees of anyone starting.”

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