Warren Gatland says the Lions would never have travelled to South Africa if victory was impossible.
Ian McGeechan and Paul O’Connell’s recent praise of the Springboks was excessive for a coach and captain bent on success. Gatland followed the same trend on Tuesday when he underlined the seemingly insurmountable strength of the Boks, but at the same time the Lions’ assistant coach believes there is hope of an upset.
‘We face a big challenge because the reality is we have to start from scratch,’ Gatland told keo.co.za. ‘This is a new team with new combinations and everything is new including things like play calls. As you will understand, it will be difficult to get these guys to gel.
‘It’s really tough, but if we thought it was hopeless we wouldn’t have bothered coming.’
The Boks beat Wales after Gatland’s side had secured the 2008 Six Nations championship and again when the Boks toured the UK last year. Gatland said lessons have been learned that may help for the upcoming Test series.
‘In my time with Wales, we’ve lost three to the Boks but we’ve improved every time we’ve played. We’ve learnt that you have to be accurate against a team like the Boks for 80 minutes, because, as was the case in Cardiff last year, one turnover or an intercept and you’ve lost.
‘The Boks are always strong and have a lot of depth, but I think they might be coming into this series a bit underdone. They have the one hit-out against a Namibian XV and that’s it, whereas we have a good opportunity to build some momentum.’
The Lions have been preparing for the matches at altitude since before their arrival and Gatland believes it won’t be a factor.
‘We’ve run some simulation programmes back home, but I think we would have been on the highveld for a good few weeks when the Tests roll round. It won’t matter, we would have adapted by then.
‘It’s also important that while we’re adapting we find some rhythm, and the only way we can do that is by winning. That’s why we’re hoping to kick the tour off with a win in Rustenburg this Saturday.’
By Jon Cardinelli, in Johannesburg