Gatland: We don’t want to use our ‘get out of jail’ card

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Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland wants The British & Irish Lions to avoid using their ‘get out of jail’ card by grasping their opportunity to seal the series against the Springboks with a game to spare.

The head coach has made three changes to the team that started their 22-17 win in the first Test last Saturday, with Conor Murray, Mako Vunipola and Chris Harris coming into the side.

Another victory for the Lions in the second Test at Cape Town Stadium would wrap up a first series win for the tourists over South Africa since their now iconic 1997 triumph.

Price on first Test nerves, No.9 battle and Springbok response

And after admitting that selection provided him with plenty of headaches once again, Gatland made it clear he has no intention of letting the series go to a deciding third Test.

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“It was just about picking what we thought was the best team for this match. Some tight, tough calls and lots of different choices that we could have gone with,” Gatland explained.

“We could have easily gone with the same 23 who won the first Test match, but we made a few changes because we wanted to pick a team for what we’re expecting to come from South Africa.

Conor Murray

“There was a discussion [about sticking with the same team] but if we were going to make any changes it wasn’t going to be one, it was going to be two or three changes.

“We did discuss rewarding that 23 for winning the first Test and then we looked at a couple of individuals, we looked at ball in play time and we thought our bench was outstanding.

“They had a big impact and that was definitely a consideration when making a couple of changes and also being aware that’s it’s not just about the 15 selected, it’s about the 23.”

Itoje warns Lions to learn lessons from their past

He added: “South Africa are going to be desperate, aren’t they? They want to stay in the series and we’ve got a chance to win the series and I have spoken to the players about that.

“We need to make sure we are mentally right as you don’t want to be using your ‘get out of jail’ card by going to the third Test, you want to make the most of the opportunity we’ve created.”

On the decision to start Murray over Ali Price and bring in Harris for Elliot Daly, Gatland said it was simply a tactical one made in anticipation of the response from the Springboks.

Mako Vunipola makes a tackle

“There’s not a lot of space, particularly in that first 20 or 30 minutes, we saw how aggressive they were in the first opportunity we had to attack when Elliot Daly was hit in the contact,” he said.

“They are going to be incredibly aggressive. They are going to run hard so it’s about staying in that arm wrestle as there’s not a lot of space and not a lot of opportunities in the first 30 minutes.

“They play very little rugby in their own half so it’s a territory battle as well so we’ve got to make sure that if we’re 6-6 at 30 minutes or 9-6 ahead at half-time, that puts us in a good place.

Lions v Springboks: Murray, Vunipola and Harris to start

“If we are 12-3 down like in the first Test or 17-3 down like we were in the A game then that’s a much bigger challenge to come back from, so the focus for us is on starting well.”

One of the 12 players who have retained their starting spot is Maro Itoje, who was named player of the match for his combative performance for the tourists in the series opener.

And Gatland felt the 26-year-old England lock, who finished the contest with three turnovers, came of age with the way he managed the game over the 80 minutes.

Maro Itoje impressed the pundits

“I thought it was an excellent performance. I made a joke on Monday that it was the first time in about 360-odd games that Maro Itoje hadn’t given away a penalty,” he said.

“I spoke to him last night as well and said maybe the penny has finally dropped because I thought his decision-making around the game was excellent.

“In terms of when he went in for things, when he decided to leave things alone, I kind of found in the past that he’s chased lost causes and gone after things that he didn’t need to do.

“He probably wasted a lot of energy but on Saturday his decision making about when to go after something or a counter ruck, breakdown or lineout stuff was actually outstanding.

“For me that’s probably the best game I’ve seen him play in any jersey. We all know the energy he brings to the game and how enthusiastic he is – that’s sometimes been to his detriment.

“He has been guilty in the past of giving away penalties and probably pushing the limits, but I thought we saw an incredibly mature performance from him last weekend.”

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