Ali Price has barely had time to reflect on the “incredibly special day” of his Lions test debut and is already targeting improvement for the second test against South Africa on Saturday.
The Glasgow and Scotland scrum-half was maybe an unlikely pick to start the first test prior to the tour but he showed in the 22-17 first test victory in Cape Town just why Warren Gatland had faith in him.
Springbok World Cup winning captain John Smid said Price had “an incredible display for a player making his first Lions test appearance” and said his pin-point box-kicking was a key element in the tourists’ victory.
‘More nervous than forever’
Price himself said he’d been more nervous “than forever” before the start of the game.
“It was pretty hard to take the occasion out of it, as much as I tried to,” he said. “I knew it was the biggest game of my career and until I got my first pass in or first involvement I was going to be pretty nervous.
“But once I got myself into the game I was delighted with the result and how it all worked out. It was an incredibly special day, and to get in a Lions squad is special, but to be a test Lion is the cherry in top I guess.”
The backing he got from even the man who had been expected to be the scrum-half for the test series was key to building his confidence, he added.
“Conor (Murray) was the first to come and say “well done mate” when we were told the team,” added Price. “We’re helping each other all the time. Conor’s got that experience and when I came in at half-time he was first there saying, `you’ve gone well’.
“That gives you so much confidence. When you hear that from a guy who has been there, and was on the last Lions tour. It’s been really enjoyable and we’ve all fed off each other.”
‘We have growth in us as well’
— British & Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) July 26, 2021
While the Lions expect a furious reaction from the Springboks, they know they’ve got much more to show themselves, he continued.
“We can expect the Springboks to improve and put in a better performance this week. But then again we have plenty of growth in us as well,” he said.
“There was not much attacking rugby in the game, in terms of us getting into our shape and going through the phases.
“Sometimes games don’t lend themselves to do that, but I think there is an area for improvement there.”
‘We speak a lot about the unseen things’
The Lions’ fitness and preparation shown through in the second half, taking momentum right after half-time, thought Price.
“The way we reacted, our fitness, our energy throughout the eighty minutes was brilliant. We can build on that as well,” he said.
“We back our conditioning and how we want to impose ourselves on teams. The start of the second half was going to be important to gain the momentum in the match.
“We speak a lot about the unseen things. The effort, the things that don’t require any talent. If you look at some of the kick chase intensity, for example. That came from the start of the second half. We cleared, got a scrum just beyond half-way and the momentum shift was massive.
“Then we were on the front foot, winning the 50/50 battles and drawing penalties from the South Africans.”
‘There is a huge carrot at the end of it’
But they’re under no illusions that the Springboks will scrap for their lives knowing the Series is on the line.
“It will be a tougher game, but there is a huge carrot at the end of it,” he said. “We have the first one but the game is not done. It is a three-game series and it is a massive game to either clinch the series. We know what will be coming week three if we do not.”
Perhaps a sign that Price was a hunch pick by Gatland was that he didn’t partner Dan Biggar on tour until the first test. But if the Welsh 10 isn’t available this week after a head knock there’s a very familiar face back in contention.
“Finn (Russell) being back will be brilliant,” said Price. “A lot of people say it but being involved in the Test is the ultimate.
“Everybody aspires to being picked for it and to play in. For Finn as well that will be no different.
“It will be a brilliant occasion for him if he is involved on Saturday. I would be chuffed to bits for him.”