The Lions fought back from a disappointing first period and 12-3 half-time deficit to triumph 22-17 in Saturday evening’s eagerly anticipated opening clash, with an impressive second-half display featuring a try from England hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie plus key penalties from Welsh fly-half Dan Biggar and, in the final minutes, replacement Owen Farrell.
It was just the second time in their last 25 Test matches that the Lions have gone on to win after being behind at the interval, with the result of the first game tending to be pivotal in series such as these.
South Africa will be desperate to quickly avenge that loss at the same venue next weekend and avoid the ignominy of the tourists wrapping up the three-Test series with a game to spare.
“They’ll be hurt from this because they’re an incredibly proud nation and world champions. Next week will be even bigger and tougher I would expect,” Gatland said.
“From our point of view you win that first one and you know that, no matter what happens, you’re going to the last weekend of the series. That keeps everyone engaged and really interested in it.
“For us, we feel like there’s an awful lot more in us too. From a conditioning point of view it looks like we’re getting stronger and stronger and are able to keep the intensity and the pace going for the whole 80 minutes.
“That’s a really pleasing aspect of how hard we’ve worked over the last six weeks or so.”
Faf de Klerk try aside, the Lions were on the right side of most of the key decisions in a dramatic second half, with Willie le Roux and Damian de Allende both seeing tries chalked off following the intervention of South African TMO Marius Jonker, whose appointment as the replacement for New Zealander Brendan Pickerill had caused plenty of controversy in the build-up to the First Test.
But Springboks head coach Jacques Nienaber insisted he had no issues with the decision to rule out Le Roux’s try after the full-back was deemed to have been in front of Lukhanyo Am as his team-mate provided a probing kick forward that Le Roux subsequently raced through to gather and touch down.
“I thought it was tight. As soon as we saw the try was given we, as coaches, thought it was going to be extremely tight,” said Nienaber.
“But I completely agree with and trust the decision they made. That is their profession, that is what they are good at.
“It could have gone both ways in my opinion, but I 100 per cent agree with the TMO decision.
“Sometimes those inches go for you and you score a brilliant try from a counter attack and sometimes it goes against you.”
Additional reporting by the Press Association.
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