Warren Gatland will urge officials to let Lions put on a spectacle in decider

·4 min read

Warren Gatland will urge the officials for Saturday’s series decider against South Africa to allow his British and Irish Lions to put on a spectacle at Cape Town Stadium.

Gatland is frustrated by the Springboks’ success in slowing the game down in an ugly second Test that saw each half last over an hour because of repeated stoppages, many of them instigated by the world champions.

There were also frequent delays while referee Ben O’Keeffe checked a host of decisions with TMO Marius Jonker, just days after South Africa director of rugby Rassie Erasmus released an extraordinary hour-long video attacking the performance of the officials from the first Test.

Gatland has responded to the 27-9 defeat that sets up Saturday’s seismic showdown by making six changes to his starting XV.

Among them is the return of Ali Price to add energy at scrum-half, Bundee Aki’s promotion to the midfield to provide extra power and the aerial prowess of Liam Williams and Josh Adams in the back three.

On a revamped bench is Finn Russell, the maverick fly-half who it will be hoped has the magic to unlock South Africa’s watertight defence later in the game.

But selection is only half the battle and Gatland is ready to implore referee Mathieu Raynal and his assistants Nic Berry and O’Keeffe to prevent the Springboks from draining all pace from the match.

“We definitely want to play more rugby and we just didn’t get that opportunity in the second half,” Lions boss Gatland said.

Frenchman Mathieu Raynal is referee for Saturday's final Test
Frenchman Mathieu Raynal is the referee for Saturday’s final Test (Donall Farmer/PA)

“At every scrum there was an injury slowing the game down and there were something like 14 minutes of TMO time in the game. We’ve worked pretty hard on our conditioning and it was really, really stop-start.

“We want to keep the tempo of the game up, to get the ball in and out of scrums, to get the ball in quickly at line-outs, to play and get a flow. South Africa at the moment don’t want to do that.

“Everything at the moment is so stop-start, and it does make it frustrating. I know (Lions captain) Alun Wyn Jones was talking to the referee on a number of occasions about keeping it going.

“We had stud changes, we had TMO decisions, we had the referee stopping the game for cramp.

“That will be one of the things I talk to the referees about this week when we discuss Saturday because we can’t have 60-odd minute halves.

“It’s important we keep the flow of the game, as much from a spectator’s point of view. We want to see some pretty good rugby and we didn’t see some great rugby played at the weekend.”

Apart from the four changes to the back line, Gatland has overhauled his front row by bringing in Wyn Jones, who has recovered from a shoulder injury, and hooker Ken Owens.

But it is the selection of Price and Russell that indicate a shift in emphasis from matching South Africa’s physicality to playing with greater ingenuity.

“One of the definite strengths of Liam Williams is his aerial game and unfortunately with our whole back three last week we weren’t great in that area – we put a lot of balls down,” Gatland said.

“South Africa used Damien De Allende a lot off nine as a hit-up merchant so Bundee has been brought in there to try and negate that. But he’s also a good rugby player, he’s not just a hit-up person.

“We were pleased with Ali on this tour in terms of the tempo that he has brought and that’s why we have moved him back in. We thought he played well in the first Test.

“Finn just adds something a little bit different and hopefully in that second half when things do loosen up a little bit, he can come on and add something.”

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