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Lions assured over South Africa officials after Warren Gatland fury

Lions assured over South Africa officials after Warren Gatland fury
© Reuters
Marius Jonker was chosen to replace New Zealand's Brendon Pickerill, who withdraw due to coronavirus-related travel issues.

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 withdraw 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.

Marius Jonker is a former referee from the Northern Cape who now works as a TMO
Marius Jonker is a former referee from the Northern Cape who now works as a TMO (David Davies/PA)

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.

The Lions felt that Faf de Klerk (pictured) should have been sent of his challenge on Josh Navidi last week
The Lions felt that Faf de Klerk should have been sent off for his challenge on Josh Navidi last week (Steve Haag/PA)

“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.”

Although they were edged 17-13 by a shadow Springbok side in the penultimate match before series, the Lions have drawn great confidence from their performance at the scrum and maul, which are pillars of the South African game.

Gatland said they had “dented the ego” of the world champions and it is a theme McBryde is happy to continue ahead of the ferocious forward collision expected in Cape Town.

“Physicality is an area of the game the Springboks pride themselves on. I’m sure they’ll be frustrated after the ‘A’ game when they didn’t get any advantage from a mauling point of view and didn’t get anything out of the scrums,” McBryde said.

“There are a few changes on both sides, but it was a Test team essentially from a South African point of view. We’ve got to step things up and build on that performance.

“We want to scrummage. We feel that technically we’re very good. We’ve been great to date.

“But I expect them to come a lot harder again in the same areas. If anything, that’ll make them a bit hungrier again. They’ll rise to the challenge again. We need to step that up and make sure we don’t rest on our laurels.”

Following a series of routine wins against modest provincial opposition in 2009, the Lions were ambushed by the intensity of the first Test and went on to lose the series.

The warm-up games this time have been similarly one-sided, but they insist that in 2021 they are ready for the Springboks.

“I know Warren can draw on the experience of 12 years ago when he was out here and the level of intensity that caught them cold in that first game. He’s making sure we don’t fall in that trap again,” McBryde said.

“As much as we can take a lot of positives out of that ‘A’ game, we do know there’s another level in the Springboks. But there’s another level in us as well.”

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