Here are the latest rugby headlines for the morning of Saturday, July 24, before the British and Irish Lions face South Africa in the first Test.
South Africa mock Gatland’s ‘dented ego’ claim
South African assistant Mzwandile Stick has moved to dismiss Warren Gatland’s “mind games” ahead of Saturday evening’s opening Test match.
With the stage set for a titanic contest on the pitch in Cape Town, tensions appear to be rising off it, with Gatland recently claiming the Lions had already dented the Springboks’ ego at the set-piece despite South Africa A toppling the tourists 17-13 on July 15.
Gatland believes his side have already ruffled some feathers in the home forward pack, but Stick clearly disagrees.
“From my side I won’t go deep on that one,” he said.
“We were happy as a Springbok team; if you look at the most important stat in the game, which is the final score, we won the game.
“So I’m not too sure what it is that they dented.
READ MORE: Lions v South Africa exact scoreline predicted
“I’m not going to fall into that trick of playing the mind games, I’m not a mind games person. The game is going to be played between four lines.
“If Gatland is talking about the egos, he doesn’t really know much about us as South Africans.
“So I’m not going too deep on that. Let’s wait and see after the game.
“Hopefully we can give the people a good show of rugby.
“We know they are going to be tough, we know they are going to be physical.
“So once again, when it comes to the ego, we’ll see the egos between the four lines.”
Gatland warned to ‘tread carefully’ as he might ‘set off a bomb’ over set-piece claims
South Africa World Cup winner Tendai ‘Beast’ Mtawarira has warned that Gatland should “tread carefully” with his “dented ego” claims in case it backfires.
Mtawarira, whose own scrum battle against the Lions and Phil Vickery in 2009 is a highlight of his on-field career, claims it’s “not the right route to go” down for Gatland.
He told The Telegraph: “I would advise against it because he might just set off a bomb! We tend to respond when there is criticism like that or negative comments.
“I guess he is playing the old mental game and trying to get in our heads, but I think he should tread carefully.”
Lions assured over officials with Gatland furious about South African TMO
The British and Irish Lions have been assured by the officials overseeing Saturday’s first Test against the Springboks that the correct decisions will be made despite the appointment of a South African television match official.
Warren Gatland is known to be furious that the neutrality of the officiating team has been compromised after Marius Jonker was chosen to replace New Zealand’s Brendon Pickerill, who withdrew due to coronavirus-related travel issues.
Gatland and his coaching lieutenants met with referee Nic Berry on Thursday to discuss any concerns ahead of the series, which begins at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday.
Complicating Jonker’s appointment is the fact that he was the TMO for the South Africa ‘A’ game last week when Faf de Klerk was shown only a yellow card despite making contact with the head of Josh Navidi.
The Lions felt that de Klerk, the Springboks’ star scrum-half, should have been sent off for the first-half incident and they have strong misgivings that Jonker is in place for the critical opening clash between the rivals.
“It was a bit unexpected. We only found out on Wednesday. There’s a slight lack of foresight because there’s a reason why that position is neutral. There’s no plan B put in place. You’ve just got to get on with it really,” forwards coach Robin McBryde said.
“We met the three officials who are officiating on the weekend. We went through everything that’s happened up to date. They were reluctant to pass any opinion on what’s happened.
“They’re aware of it and they’re confident in the comms they’ll have on the weekend that between the four of them, they’ll come to the right decision.
“The role of the TMO….his say is pretty final with regards to communication between him and the referee. It’s a very important position. I’m sure there will be no issues on weekend.
“The impression I got really was that they wanted to move on and that they trust in their own decisions and communications and the understanding between the three of them, so hopefully that will come to the fore on the weekend.”
Wales Women reach ‘catastrophic point’ as players ‘feel more valued’ in England
Ex-Wales wing Caryl James says the women’s national team is in desperate need of a complete overhaul.
Warren Abrahams left his post as head coach by mutual consent after just nine months in the job this week, having overseen a shortened Six Nations campaign which saw Wales fail to win a single game.
And James believes the whole set-up is now in dire need of a total overhaul.
“It has reached a catastrophic point… we’ve got a big, big problem,” James told the BBC.
“There’s a huge amount of work that needs to be made right to fix this – I don’t even think appointing [British and Irish Lions coach] Warren Gatland would fix this problem.
“It goes much deeper than just appointing a head coach as well.
“I’ve been talking about the state of rugby in Wales for years but nothing seems to have been done and it’s all been left just to disseminate.
“The culture in the community and club structure we have at the moment has been destroyed and it hurts me to say that the Welsh girls now feel more valued playing for the English Premier teams than they do playing for their own country.
“Wales needs a person, a figurehead with a sole focus for women’s performance.”
Gatland pledges to fight for future of the Lions
Meanwhile, Gatland insists he will continue fighting for the future of the British and Irish Lions, amid an increasingly congested calendar.
The tour of South Africa has arguably been the most challenging tour of his tenure, mainly due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Even before the tour, and Covid outbreaks in both camps, the programme had been trimmed to eight matches in five weeks, with the Lions also securing the early release of England-based players for their camp in Jersey at the last minute.
And, amid the one-sided nature of some of the warm-up games, there have been calls to revamp future Lions tours, with the team seemingly facing an increasingly harder fight for its place in a cluttered calendar.
“I’d like to think I’ve fought really hard – I’ve not always been the most popular with members of the board or the unions – about how important the Lions is to the rugby calendar, to the players, for the people who are involved it’s something incredibly special,” Gatland said.
“I don’t think they always understand the significance of a Lions tour and representing the Lions, not just as players but also as coaches and management but also for the fans.
“I’m going to keep fighting and keep promoting the Lions. For the last 20 years I’ve spent in the UK, all that time in Ireland as well, I feel very privileged and honoured to have had those opportunities. I’d like to think I’ve been incredibly honest and transparent and worn my heart on my sleeve.”
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