Warren Gatland Column: Learning from our mistakes and competition for places

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Warren Gatland with the media

The British & Irish Lions made it back-to-back wins against the Cell C Sharks with a thrilling 71-31 victory as the tourists ran in 11 tries at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.

Head coach Warren Gatland gives his thoughts on another high-scoring contest, the battle for Test places against the Springboks and the call up of Marcus Smith in his first-person column:

GOOD TEST PREPARATION

“That was a tough test. I think we caused a few of our own problems with the turnovers, a couple of intercepts and poor passes that allowed the Sharks in the game and put us under pressure.

“We scored some good tries in the first half and I was pleased with a lot of the forward effort, I thought the lineout was good and it was pleasing to score a try from a driving maul.

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“When we got close to the line we looked pretty strong up front as well and those are some of the things we’ve been working on but we were just a bit edgy, a bit untidy in that first half in particular.

Conor Murray, Anthony Watson and Sam Simmonds celebrate after the game

“I think that first half from the Sharks is what we can expect from the Test matches, with the South African team coming pretty hard and trying to put us under pressure to see if they can catch us behind the gainline.

“They will look to pressurise us and make us make mistakes. We just need to make sure we’re a bit more accurate and tidier and I thought we did that a lot better in the second half. The players were well aware that they’d forced a few passes.

“The Sharks also came with a different defensive mindset to try and stop some of our offloads and we had to adjust to that. I think 38 percent of our possession in the first half was turnover possession and I think 14 percent of their possession was turnovers.

“When you have those sort of numbers you’re going to allow opposition teams to have opportunities. We’ll look at that pretty closely and look to tidy up those aspects of our game for the next game.

CALLING UP MARCUS SMITH

“We made a courtesy call to England last night about Marcus Smith, his availability and the fact that we were going to call him up as Finn Russell has had an injection.

“He’s not got a strained Achilles, just a slight tear in it so that’s going to keep him out for the next couple of weeks and we’re going to try and see if we can rehab him.

Lions recover from first-half scare to beat Sharks again

“He will be in a boot for the next five days and then when he comes out of that he’ll have some more treatment. He’ll still continue to have treatment over the next five days.

Finn Russell Sigma Lions

“If he is making good progress then we’ll assess him going forward but if he’s not then there’s a possibility that he may go home – it’s just a wait and situation with him.

“One thing we’ve been saying it that nothing that people throw at us is going to catch us by surprise, we’ll be ready for anything, but we’re aware of the Springbok challenge.

Smith called up to the Lions as injury cover

“We know how tough they are going to be and the physicality they are going to bring, it’s going to be tough for us and we probably haven’t been tested for the full 80 minutes yet.

“Hopefully we’re going to get that in the next couple of games.

COMPETITION FOR PLACES

“I think Jack Conan is playing really well, he played really well against the Sharks. There was some really good footwork and some good go-forward, he was very accurate.

“I was really, really pleased with his performance in the couple of games he’s had so he’s going well. It’s a competitive slot the No.8 jersey but then there’s a few positions like that.

“There’s a lot of competition between the back rowers and it’s making it difficult for us coaches. Jack is going well though and I thought the guys who came off the bench gave us momentum too.

“In the back three, I thought Duhan van der Merwe was excellent, Anthony Watson was great on attack – a couple of defensive lapses that we need to sort out – and Liam Williams was good.

Anthony Watson makes a break

“We had some strong performances from the back row as well. As I said, I thought Conan was good, Hamish Watson played well and Tadhg Beirne scored a couple of tries and did a job.

“There were the guys coming off the bench as well so it’s pretty competitive at the moment and I think things will start ramping up as we get down to Cape Town and the next two matches.

“They are going to be important for a number of players when they get their opportunity to put their hand up and hopefully put themselves in contention for a Test spot.”

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