SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: If Gatland can get the Lions out of this hole, it will be his greatest triumph


SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: If Warren Gatland can get the Lions out of this hole and win the Test series decider against the Springboks, it will be the crowning achievement of his coaching career… his team were off the pace and brave calls must be made

  • The Lions must go for extreme pace and try to prevent the constant stoppages 
  • Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Elliot Daly all come into play
  • Warren Gatland must go for broke and select Finn Russell at fly-half if he is fit 
  • Don’t expect the Boks to change their normal forward-orientated game plan 

The Lions are in a hole of their own making and it might be the crowning achievement of Warren Gatland’s coaching career if he can find a way out on Saturday in the third and decisive Test.

His team were way off the pace in the second Test, suckered into playing the forward-orientated game the Springboks love, at the steady pace they enjoy.

There was no tempo in the game. It lasted for ever — I noted down that the first four minutes of play took 12 minutes of actual time. There was no opportunity to tire out those big Boks forwards and bring endurance rather than brute force into the equation.

Lions coach Warren Gatland must go for broke in the third Test

Lions must have Finn Russell at fly-half if he is fit for the third Test

Warren Gatland (left) must go for broke and select Finn Russell (right) at fly-half if he is fit

It was a desperately poor second half from the Lions, who looked deflated, flat and confused. In the first Test they stormed out of the tunnel after the break and produced a very high-quality burst of rugby to take the game away from the Boks. This time there was no response.

The Lions, and supporters like me, read too much into that Test. I have to put my hand up on this one. It was a win but the truth is that the Boks were just awful, way off the pace and rusty, and the Lions scarcely better than average.

We probably knew that the Boks would improve 100 per cent but wrongly assumed the Lions would do likewise. They didn’t.

The other big mistake is that we thought the Boks might change their style — forward power, box ballgame, only really attacking in the 22 — because the misleading evidence of the first Test suggested the Lions could match them and even shade it up front.

Lood de Jager gave the Boks an unbeatable lineout to complement their powerful scrum

Lood de Jager gave the Boks an unbeatable lineout to complement their powerful scrum

Wrong. The Boks changed absolutely nothing, they just continued with their normal game plan — except this time they executed it so much better. Don’t expect anything different on Saturday. Expect them to be even better, in fact.

The Boks made one great tactical call in the second half when they dropped versatile lock Franco Mostert into the back row and brought on Lood de Jager to give them an unbeatable lineout to complement their powerful scrum.

The Lions had no answer, their pack just disappeared — which was frankly a bit ominous.

I was shocked.

Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Elliot Daly all come into play on Saturday

Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Elliot Daly all come into play on Saturday

So what to do? They need some clear thinking and brave calls need to be made by Gatland and Co. Gregor Townsend needs to come into play — he will have been frustrated at the limited part his Lions back division played in that game, scarcely firing a shot in anger.

The Lions can only beat South Africa if they up the pace massively and somehow prevent all those stoppages which are a godsend for the Boks. Every prolonged TMO episode is manna from heaven for their forwards.

The Lions have to go for broke. It must be Finn Russell if fit or Marcus Smith at fly-half. And whichever of those two doesn’t start needs to be on the bench. I’m a huge Owen Farrell fan but he offered no threat off the bench on Saturday, he just continued in the same vein as Dan Biggar.

Liam Williams, Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Elliot Daly must all come into play. The theme must be extreme pace in everything the Lions do.

Change the atmosphere of the contest. The last two months of the Premiership season were lit up by sides playing the ‘you score four tries, we will score five’ style of rugby.

The Lions looked deflated, flat and confused and the pack disappeared in the second Test

The Lions looked deflated, flat and confused and the pack disappeared in the second Test

Try to drag the Boks into a game they don’t want to play, that they don’t feel comfortable with. Ball-in-hand time, quick lineouts, tapped penalties — pace all the way.

Of course the basics will have to be in place, and the Lions have fewer options there. I’m not sure there are any tight five forwards who demand selection over those who have started to date, though in the back row we possibly need fresh legs at flanker and the ball-playing skills of Taulupe Faletau.

And one other thought. I totally get that it is not these sides’ duty to entertain and enthral. But my goodness, this series has been a poor spectacle, a mean-spirited, cantankerous and rather dispiriting rugby experience.

A Lions series should be as good as it gets, but our game is not putting its best foot forward.

The sport probably gained tens of thousands of new fans watching the Olympic sevens and I just pray they didn’t then tune into this Test series as well!

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