David Corkery: Poor tactics meant Lions got what they deserved

Warren Gatland deserves the blame for the loss in South Africa
David Corkery: Poor tactics meant Lions got what they deserved

British & Irish Lions' Conor Murray with South Africa Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus. Picture: INPHO/Billy Stickland

THIS may sound strange but, in one respect I am happy that the Lions lost this second test. 

And if they don’t learn from their errors, I would have no issues with them losing the third.

Apart from bringing this series to a mouth-watering finale, when all you can muster up in terms of an attacking strategy is kicking the ball high in the air, you fully deserve to lose. I 100% blame Warren Gatland for this.

Gatland knows better than anyone in order to create history in any sporting context you need to think outside the box and take risks. As soon as Conor Murray was selected for this second test, everybody knew exactly what the game-plan would be. The Lions went from an unbeatable outfit to a group of players that have serious questions to answer.

In the build-up, there was a very strange outburst by Rassie Erasmus when he aired his grievances in a one-hour video rant about how his side was disrespected by the officials, played out on social media.

This way of transmitting your protests has never been seen before and while the Lions kept their powder dry and didn’t react, lots of people are now suggesting that they should have offered some kind of reply.

I don’t think that they would have underestimated the physical backlash that was coming from the Springboks but when the hosts gained the upper hand, Alun Wyn Jones and his players had no answer to the wave after wave of green jerseys that pummelled them, especially in the second half.

The first half was a rather dull and boring period that took 63 minutes to conclude because of a multitude of video reviews that halted the play, time and again. The second half was to be an entirely different kettle of fish and one that saw the world champions dominate in every facet that the game has to offer.

In stark contrast to last week's dominant victory where the Lions had leaders stepping forward from all sectors, not one player stood front and centre this week and tried to turn the tide.

Alun Wyn Jones was completely anonymous not only as a player but more so as a captain and failed to muster any kind of emotional resistance against a South African side that played as if their lives had depended on them winning.

Maro Itoje, who overshadowed all others seven days earlier, huffed and puffed but was completely nullified by his opposing number Eben Etzebeth.

The half-back pairing of Conor Murray and Dan Bigger were hamstrung by Gatland’s game-plan and apart from kicking the leather off the ball at nearly every opportunity, both are now in serious risk of losing their starting jerseys for next week.

British & Irish Lions' Dan Biggar takes a kick. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
British & Irish Lions' Dan Biggar takes a kick. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

Chris Harris and Robbie Henshaw who previously never played together before Saturday’s test offered nothing in the Lions midfield and their backrow had no go forward target to hone in on as a result of their inability to find open space.

With the little ball they got to play with, the Boks defence was easily able to halt their blind alley and head down advances and you would think that Elliot Daly or Owen Farrell might start next week. Harris and Henshaw are just too similar in how they look to break the gain line and at least with Daly or Farrell there might be some kind of ingenuity or inventiveness.

Apart from having the beeping sounds that normally warn you that a truck is reversing, the scrum seemed to be jammed in reverse gear every time they packed down and the penalties that ensued allowed the South Africans to consume whatever life the Lions had left in them as the game drew to an end.

Before the first test took place, I predicted that this three-test series would be played as six separate halves and that is exactly how it is panning out.

It is going to be so interesting to see how Gatland and his coaching team play the mind games over the next few days and whether they look to make lots or minimal changes to next week’s team.

Last week the home side were asked to front up after their disappointing loss and that is exactly what they did.

The big question now is, can the Lions do the same thing and hold off a legion of players that are only going to get stronger?

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