Warren Gatland Column: Dealing with adversity and defensive improvements

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Warren Gatland

The British & Irish Lions won their second match of the 2021 Tour on South African soil with an impressive 54-7 victory over Cell C Sharks in Johannesburg.

Head coach Warren Gatland gives his thoughts on another comprehensive win, the players that stood out and the pre-match disruption caused by Covid in his first-person column:

DEALING WITH ADVERSITY

“I have never known a day like that in my time in professional sport, it’s been surreal and a real challenge considering the staff and players were in our rooms until 6pm.

“We didn’t get the results back until 5.30pm and then had to make a few changes but I’m incredibly proud of the performance of the players, how they adjusted, and the hard work of the staff.

Clinical Lions romp to eight-try win over Sharks

“I was already proud but more than the performance and result, I was proud of the togetherness of the group and how much they wanted to go out there, perform and wear this jersey.

Duhan Van der Merwe

“My message to the players before the game was let’s use this as a positive, let’s show that whatever is thrown at us we can deal with it, nothing is going to phase us.

“We were in a situation where we weren’t in control of things and we just had to go with the flow and adjust, we talk about potentially being in a situation of chaos and then being able to adapt and change, that’s really what we did.

“The players were outstanding in their approach and just to see how vocal they were in the changing rooms afterwards, the way they supported each other on the pitch, it was tremendous.”

SHOWING WHAT THE SHIRT MEANS

“We weren’t too disrupted with the forward pack. We put Hamish Watson and Taulupe Faletau just to cover as we know they could have gone into the backline if we needed them.

“But we were able to bring them on and play them in the forwards and give them an opportunity but the backs had it really tough and I said to them afterwards, it was a lot easier for the forwards.

“They were able to get replaced but the backs dug incredibly deep and then we took Duhan van der Merwe off as his hamstrings were tightening up and we were down to 14 men.

The team huddle

“Josh Adams managed to score a try while we were down to 14 men and then Louis Rees-Zammit’s hamstrings tightened up as well so we played the last few minutes with 13.

“I’ve got to take my hat off to these players, they’ve really dug deep for the whole squad and it just shows to me what it means to play for The British & Irish Lions.

“Fair play to Josh Adams. He is scoring tries and defensively he got better at fullback. He made a couple of errors in terms of his positional play but he definitely got better as the game went on.

“It’s tough on him as ideally we wanted to rest him but he stepped up and played a full 80 minutes. You have to take your hat off to him and he certainly knows where the tryline is.”

DEFENCE SHOWING IMPROVEMENT

“I was really pleased overall with our defence. They didn’t look as though they were causing us any problems although there was a few times when the game really loosened up.

“They managed to get a few passes away and they stretched us a bit but I thought defensively we looked very strong and we created some opportunities and finished off some great tries.

“They posed a little bit of a different defensive threat, different to what the Sigma Lions did the other night so we had to play through them a little bit more.

“What was pleasing me most on a couple of those tries was the patience we showed as we played through the phases and waited to finish off our opportunities.

Sam Simmonds

“In the first game we were probably forcing things a little bit more and there were times when we had a number of turnovers, where we were trying to force it too much, but we kept our patience.

“Josh Navidi is an absolutely quality player and he was definitely one of the guys who was in contention for the 37-man Tour squad but we didn’t select him because he had a shoulder injury.

“He hadn’t had much rugby at the time and there was no guarantee that he was going to get back and get fit so the ironic situation is that he benefitted from Justin Tipuric’s unfortunate injury.

“That gave him a little bit more time to get back training with Wales. I’ve known him for a long time and he may have deserved more recognition and there was criticism of me in Wales for not picking him earlier but when he’s been fit he’s been one of the mainstays of that Welsh side.

“He’s definitely important to them and I thought the loose forward trio complemented each other and they all did some really good things, especially as they are still getting used to the altitude.”

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