‘Water boy’ ploy gives Gatland a shot at Boks
Lions head coach Warren Gatland turned up the pressure on the Springboks by highlighting what he felt were South Africa A’s underhand tactics in their 17-13 victory this week.
In a pointed message to the officials, Gatland mocked director of rugby Rassie Erasmus’ role as a water carrier at the Cape Town Stadium, as well as calling out halfback Faf de Klerk’s high tackle on Josh Navidi.
Erasmus had already upset the Lions camp in the build-up to the match, described by many as a fourth test, by suggesting they were scared of facing South Africa A for a second time this week as well as revealing Alun Wyn Jones’ imminent return.
After naming his team to face the Stormers tomorrow — when he says “60 to 70 per cent” of test places are up for grabs — Gatland took the opportunity to return fire at Erasmus’ comments.
“I think he was trying to wind us up, saying we’re scared,” Gatland said. “Sometimes he’s capable of doing that. [In the South Africa A game], he was the water boy running on the pitch — if you’re the water boy running on to the pitch, you’ve got make sure you’re carrying water.
“I didn’t understand what his role was — you don’t run on to the pitch giving messages as the water boy without carrying water. My advice to him is to make sure he’s carrying water next time he does that.”
Just before halftime, de Klerk, one of 11 World Cup winners starting for South Africa A, appeared to make contact with the head of Lions flanker Navidi. After a long TMO review, referee Jaco Peyper showed a yellow rather than a red card leaving Gatland perplexed. He will seek a meeting with the officials to ensure there are not further fluctuations in the interpretation of a high tackle.
“I can’t understand where the comments were that there was no contact to the head,” Gatland said. “Someone was watching a different picture to me. I thought it looked reckless. No arms and he’s hit the arm first and then the shoulder, but there’s definitely head-on-head contact. We’ve got a meeting with the referees to get a bit of clarity on that.”
In the final warm-up match before the three-test series begins on July 24, Gatland hands starts to fullback Stuart Hogg and centre Robbie Henshaw, who returns from two weeks out with a hamstring injury. Hogg, who captains the team, has spent much of the past week isolating after being identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 case.
“I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” he said. “Honestly, it was a horrendous few days.”
Unlike previous Lions tours, the test XV still appears to be in a state of flux just nine days out from the first test, with the defeat to the Springboks A side further muddying the waters.
Even tour captain Conor Murray’s place is not safe, with Gatland stating halfback Ali Price “absolutely” has an opportunity to earn a start.
“It [test team] is probably fluid in terms of 60 or 70 per cent,” he said.