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Springboks keep cool as heat is turned up ahead of first British and Irish Lions Test

·3-min read
Springboks keep cool as heat is turned up ahead of first British and Irish Lions Test

Tensions have steadily been rising as the first Test between the British and Irish Lions and South Africa has neared. But rather than turn the heat up, the Springboks’ captain and assistant coach both kept their cool in the face of some probing questions on Friday.

Speaking on a digital press conference, skipper Siya Kolisi and backline coach Mzwandile Stick were asked to weigh in on a few of the subplots surrounding this eagerly awaited contest.

“It definitely doesn’t get to us as a team,” Kolisi said when asked if the fringe narratives have taken any of their attention away from the primary goal of winning a Lions series.

“I always believe that whatever is supposed to happen on Saturday will happen. I don’t get involved in those kinds of things because I have a far bigger job to do on the field.”

One of the brewing storms in the proverbial teacup has been the reprised role of director of rugby Rassie Erasmus. The 2019 World Cup-winning coach has been tasked with carrying drinks - and messages - to the players during the game.

Mzwandile Stick and Siya Kolisi have side-stepped the opportunity to engage in mind games before the first Test (Getty Images)
Mzwandile Stick and Siya Kolisi have side-stepped the opportunity to engage in mind games before the first Test (Getty Images)

Lions coach Warren Gatland labelled the situation as “strange”, with several former players and members of the media pondering if this is a violation of the spirit of the game. Stick was unperturbed.

“Rassie will be running the water tomorrow,” the backline coach said.

“That is his role in the team. And to assist Jacques Nienaber as head coach. So he will be there and running around bringing water to the players. And we as Springbok rugby are happy with that.”

Another possible point of contention has focussed on the one South African in the Lions camp. Though winger Duhan van der Merwe is unquestionably a champion of Scotland, he was born and raised in South Africa.

Gatland has told the Scotland wing to expect plenty of attention from the opposition and his former coach at Edinburgh, Richard Cockerill, believes that he will cop a fair bit of verbal abuse from his former countrymen. Once again, Stick and Kolisi were quick to douse those flames.

“We’ve never been that kind of team,” Kolisi said. “We save our energy for the work we need to do.”

Stick added: “You know very well we are good people as South Africans. If it wasn’t for the pandemic we would have surely invited Duhan for some braaivleis [barbecue meat].”

Other potential sparks included the appointment of South African Marius Jonker as the as TMO after Brendon Pickerill of New Zealand had to pull out due to travel disruption caused by Covid-19. With no contingency plan, World Rugby had no choice but to call upon a local referee.

This has reportedly left Gatland “furious”. Stick offered little sympathy.

“We don’t appoint officials,” he said. “To us it doesn’t affect us. The main thing is for us to focus on how we want to play the game. If they have a problem with that unfortunately they can have a chat with World Rugby.”

Finally, the Springboks coach was asked to comment about a particular barb from Gatland. The Lions boss suggested that the South Africans’ egos had been dented following the tourists’ ascendancy at the set-piece in a warm up nine days ago.

Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will continue his role as water carrier (Getty Images)
Director of rugby Rassie Erasmus will continue his role as water carrier (Getty Images)

“The most important stat in that game which is the final score, we won the game,” Stick shot back, referencing the 17-13 result in favour of South Africa A.

“I’m not going to fall into the trap of mind games. I’m not a mind games person. The game is going to be played between the four lines.

“If Gatland is talking about egos he doesn’t know much about us as South Africans. Let’s wait and see tomorrow after the game.”

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