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Rugby experts debate: Did Gatland really get the game plan wrong?

BY Stephen Brunsdon  ·  Tuesday Aug 17, 2021

So much has been written about, speculated over and discussed from the recent British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa. Where it was won, where it was lost, and so on.

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An equal amount has been centred on whether Lions coach Warren Gatland got his strategy for the tourists wrong for the test series. Did they play too little rugby? Did they get outfoxed by the Springboks?

There’s no doubt that the Lions got things wrong in the second test match, with losing 27-9 to a seemingly more adventurous and hungrier South African side, but when Finn Russell came on early in the third test, the Lions were able to trouble the South African defensive lines far more than they had done in the previous two matches.

Russell stated after the match that the game plan needed to be more expansive if the Lions were to win the series. It’s hard to argue with that assessment when considering the final test on its own as the Lions look a lot more dangerous with ball in hand when Russell was on the field.

Indeed, the Lions very likely would have won had Liam Williams and Josh Adams finished off a rare piece of backline attacking during the test series in the first half.

RugbyPass’s “Offload” podcast debated this subject, with former Wales centre Jamie Roberts, ex-South Africa international Jean de Villiers and retired Scottish back-rower Ryan Wilson giving their takes.

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Roberts reckoned that Gatland should have deployed “more width” and “energy” against the Boks, with risk versus reward a key area the Lions missed.

He also believed that Gatland was “too conservative” in the test matches, which ultimately cost the tourists the series win, particularly given that South Africa themselves, “are typically conservative.”

De Villiers countered by saying that the inclusion of Russell in the third test, while making an impact, probably would have been nullified by the Boks had Gatland started him in all three matches.

But former Scotland and Glasgow team-mate of Russell, Wilson reckoned that Russell starting one and featuring on the bench in the other matches would have given Gatland the variety he was lacking with Russell still recovering from a torn Achilles.

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What’s your take on Gatland’s game plan during the test series? Was he too conservative or did the Lions just get out-done on the day by a better drilled and more clinical Springboks? Leave your comments below.

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