British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland insists South Africa will feel acutely the absence of Faf de Klerk and Pieter-Steph du Toit in Saturday’s series decider at Cape Town Stadium.
De Klerk and Du Toit are two of the Springboks’ most influential players who Gatland views as “world-class”, but they will miss the decisive final Test through injuries sustained in their side’s 27-9 victory a week earlier.
As the heartbeat of the world champions, De Klerk is an on-field general and key figure in their kicking game while 2019 world player of the year Du Toit is a powerful force up front.
“They will be two big losses for them, they are both world-class players and can have a big impact on the match. They definitely will be a loss,” Gatland said.
“We thought that when Faf came off he might have had a hamstring or a glute injury, so we weren’t expecting him to be playing this weekend.
“We weren’t sure about Du Toit in terms of the knock he took early on in the game and tried to play through, but he wasn’t right.
“Losing Faf possibly changes the way we are going to look at things. They might kick more off Handre Pollard like they did at the weekend. Pollard kicked a lot more in the second Test so they may revert to that.
“With Faf’s left-foot game and the way he defends, everything is on the edge with him in the way that he plays. He’s pretty feisty.”
While the unavailability of De Klerk and Du Toit are hammer blows for South Africa, who have also confirmed that talisman number eight Duane Vermeulen is not yet ready for action following ankle surgery, the Lions have their own issues to deal with despite possessing a fully-fit squad.
All the momentum is with the Springboks after they overturned a half-time deficit in the second Test to amass 21 unanswered points with the tourists unable to fire a shot, undone by their opponents’ aerial bombardment and forward power.
Gatland has resisted the urge to select another playmaker at inside centre to provide more vision in attack, instead pairing Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in an all-Ireland midfield axis designed to meet the hosts head-on.
The Lions boss still believes that the key to South Africa’s downfall will be to drive them backwards through using their carriers and finishing any chances created.
“It’s not so much about the creativity, it’s about making sure that we get some front-foot ball,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say that South Africa have been creative in any way. From an attacking perspective they haven’t really stressed us.
“We played some good rugby earlier on in this tour when we got some front-foot ball.
“At the weekend we had some good phases and we highlighted and identified to the players where we had created some chances, but probably just didn’t execute them.
“So that’s a thing we’ll be working hard on at training this week, particularly with the way that South Africa defend with that rush defence. It doesn’t give you a lot of time and space.
“That’s why it’s so important to get on the front foot to get some go-forward, whether that’s through your forwards or hitting it up, or the variation of a positive kicking game to slow the line speed.”