The British and Irish Lions know what is coming from wounded Springboks
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DURBAN – The Lions have to grapple with the tricky balancing act of keeping the frenzied Bokke hordes at bay on Saturday while also launching sufficient attacking forays of their own to win the battle.
That is the poser for the Lions in Saturday’s second Test. They know precisely what is coming from chastised South Africans who will hurl themselves at the Lions’ barricades with an unprecedented fury.
Gatland last week reminded his players of the second Test in 2009 when seven wounded Lions players were hospitalised by a Springbok team determined to clinch the series after having won the first Test, so what will an even more frantic Bok team be like as they fight to stay alive in the series?
The enormity of a series defeat to the Lions is certainly weighing heavily on the Boks and they will rather perish on attack than die wondering on defence.
It is with this onslaught in mind that Gatland made the changes he did to his side. He kept intact nearly all of the group that looked so threatening on attack but in three key areas he has added steel to his structure.
He has recalled the vastly experienced Conor Murray at scrumhalf for Ali Price to ensure that in a vital position he has a calm head when others around him could be in danger of losing theirs…
Similarly, he has swapped the strapping Scot Chris Harris (1.88m, 105kgs) for last week’s No 13, Elliot Daly, who looked decidedly fragile after taking a missile strike from Lukhanyo Am.
And in the front row, Gatland has called up the 125kgs of prime Tongan beef that is Mako Vunipola, who last week formidably threw his weight around in a telling cameo off the bench.
After naming his squad, Gatland said with typical understatement: “We’ve spoken to the players about making sure they’re mentally right because next week we don’t want to have to resort to the get-out-of-jail card which is the third Test. We want to make the most of this opportunity to seal the series on Saturday.”
Reading between the lines, the New Zealander is saying that if the Boks level the series, the momentum will be with them going into the third Test decider and they could prove unstoppable.
On bringing in Harris, Gatland explained that he is expecting more softening up from the Springbok midfield of Am and his battering ram partner Damian de Allende
“They were very direct in the way they attacked with De Allende, so we are expecting more of the same.”
Gatland said that an example of a firm hand on the tiller when the ship is in the eye of the storm came from last week’s Man of the Match, Maro Itoje, the England star who turned in a near faultless performance.
“That was the best game I’ve seen Maro play in any jersey. I joked with him that it is the first time in about 360-odd games that he didn't give away a penalty.
“Maybe the penny has finally dropped. We all know the energy he brings to a game and how enthusiastic he is, and sometimes that's probably been to his detriment because he has been guilty in the past of giving away a lot of penalties, and probably pushing the limits on lost causes, but I thought we saw an incredibly mature performance last weekend.
“And we need more of the same on Saturday…”