Former British and Irish Lions captain Gareth Thomas lauds Warren Gatland’s ‘exciting’ changes for second Test against South Africa as he backs Scotland’s Chris Harris to add stability against ‘chaotic’ Springboks side drinking in ‘the last chance saloon’
- The British and Irish Lions showed great spirit during their first Test victory
- Warren Gatland has made three changes ahead of the crucial second Test
- Gareth Thomas feels bringing in Chris Harris will bring a ‘sense of excitement’
- He believe calm heads will be important in a ‘last chance saloon’ for South Africa
- The former Lions captain is confident they can secure a 3-0 Test series victory
Former Wales captain Gareth Thomas has praised the British and Irish Lions after their excellent first test victory against South Africa and is fully confident they can go on to dominate the series.
The Lions mounted a brilliant second-half comeback to beat the Springboks 22-17 to take the early advantage in the series at Cape Town.
Warren Gatland has made three changes to his side for the second Test on Saturday, with Mako Vunipola coming in for Rory Sutherland, Chris Harris replacing Elliot Daly and Conor Murray taking the place of Ali Price.
The Lions are one game away from securing a Test series victory over South Africa
Former Lions captain Gareth Thomas is confident the Lions can secure a 3-0 series victory
Thomas believes Chris Harris (right) is a more natural fit at 13 compared to Elliot Daly (left)
Thomas was part of the Lions’ tour of New Zealand in 2005, in which he took over the role as captain after Brian O’Driscoll dislocated his shoulder in the first test.
The Welshman has praised Gatland for his changes and in particular feels Harris will make an impact.
He said: ‘Mako brings in some experience and while Elliot Daly has been playing at 13 he’s not an out-and-out 13 himself. So I think to bring Chris Harris in at the 13 brings a bit of flesh blood, a bit of excitement but also a bit of stability.
‘The 13 is a really crucial position especially when it comes to defence so I think the three changes that he’s made will add a bit of excitement.
‘What it will also add is a bit of realisation that no one’s safe in this team. It might be a case of “you might win at the weekend but I’ll still pick different people”. You have to perform and perform to Gatland’s expectations.
‘It’s one of the most talented Lions squads there’s ever been so you’ll have talent that will miss out but after the tours to Australia, New Zealand and this tour you’ve not been able to question Gatland for getting a selection wrong.’
The Lions found it hard at times in the first Test and will need to cut out mistakes
The hosts will be determined to keep the series alive as they arrive in the ‘last chance saloon’
Despite the positive start there was plenty for the Lions to take and learn from the first Test, with Gatland’s side making a number of errors in a difficult first-half.
The Lions were able to keep the game tight though and deliver what Thomas says was a ‘polished’ display against the ‘strongest, most powerful team in the world’.
The Springboks will be determined to keep the series alive on Saturday and that’s why Thomas feels more experience had to be added to the side.
He said: ‘I think having players on the field who have a bit more game management about them, a bit more knowledge, maybe less flair and more strong qualities would be something that the Lions will undoubtedly be looking at because South Africa are drinking in the last chance saloon and that makes them a very difficult prospect.
‘Last chance saloons can sometimes be chaotic and you need players who are willing to be able to be calm in the chaotic circumstances.’
A key factor to the second game will be cutting out mistakes as well as the kicking battle between the Lions’ Dan Biggar and South Africa’s Handre Pollard.
Connor Murray and Mako Vunipola have also been called into the second Test on Saturday
Thomas has praised Gatland for his selections throughout this and previous tours
‘As always it’s going to be a forward battle.’ Thomas said. ‘I think it will come down to the tens, kicking and the strategy of playing the game in the right areas.
‘At times in the first game the Lions found themselves under pressure which we were lucky to get out of. So they need to play a zero tolerance to mistakes type of game because the South Africans will pounce on any mistakes, any loose balls, any missed tackles.
‘They’re a real proud nation, it’s a country that some of the turmoil in so many political and social ways at the moment, they use all that as inspiration to give to the nation and they are a proud nation when it comes to rugby.
‘They’ll use these difficulties to give them more motivation and to put a smile on people’s faces. It will be extremely difficult for the Lions because they’ll play against a very motivated South Africa side.
‘But I feel the Lions showed they could take the best that South Africa can throw at them so it’s all about the errors.’
Thomas who was part of the Lions’ tour in 2005 says they will need to keep ‘calm heads’
The former Wales captain is expecting a tough, physical game for the Lions in the second Test in what will be a bigger game for their opponents.
Thomas, though, believes the Lions have shown they can absorb the pressure from the Springboks and dominate the series.
He said: ‘I called it at the start and I won’t change my mind, I think the Lions will win the series 3-0. Everything that has confronted South Africa, I mean outside of rugby has been such a difficult thing but I wasn’t sure how they were going to focus.
‘And you have to be impressed with them with everything that’s gone on in the camp to be able to perform like that on the weekend. But yeah I just have a sense from the minute the whistle went on the weekend when the Lions won then they were already focused on the week after.
‘They weren’t talking about celebrating they were focusing on the next game and I think they’ve gone in with a job in mind, they’ve got a good group of players and will be fully focused.’
Gareth Thomas is an ambassador for small business insurance provider Simply Business’s Business Boost campaign – helping one self-employed person start, grow or revive their business with a £25,000 grant.
To find out more about the campaign, visit www.simplybusiness.co.uk/business-boost/
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