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Gatland calls on referees to clamp down on the All Blacks' illegal play

The Lions boss has already raised the issue with match officials.

Murray Kinsella reports from Hamilton

LIONS BOSS WARREN Gatland has called on match officials to clamp down on the All Blacks’ illegal play in the three-Test series over the next month.

Gatland has been frustrated by what he perceives as deliberate foul play by the Kiwi teams over the course of the warm-up fixtures.

Warren Gatland and Rory Best Gatland wants the All Blacks' illegal play clamped down on. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The Lions head coach is particularly aggrieved with what he says is illegal blocking by New Zealand, and he feels the All Blacks will be adept in this area too.

South African referee Jaco Peyper is on the whistle for the first Test next weekend in Auckland, with Jerome Garces and Romain Poite to adjudicate the other two clashes, and Gatland is calling on them to shut down the Kiwis’ attempts to obstruct his Lions players.

“The frustrating thing for us is the amount of blocking that’s going on, the off-ball stuff, it makes it difficult to complete attacking opportunities and situations because there is so much happening off the ball in terms of holding players or subtly holding players,” said Gatland in Hamilton yesterday.

“We’ve raised it with the ref already. If you listen to the ref’s mic [against the Maori All Blacks] they were talking about it constantly through the game. They gave a couple of penalties last night for blocking. It’s one of the hardest things to pick up because it tends to happen quite a long way off the ball.

“In fairness to the assistant referees, they did raise it on a number of occasions. And sometimes it was put through to the TMO who said it didn’t have a material affect and told the ref to talk to the players about it. We’ll keep raising it.

“Because it was picked up on a couple of occasions last night they stopped doing it as much. That made it a lot easier for us to get up in the air and to compete. In a couple of games we haven’t been able to get up in the air because there has been that interference.”

While the Lions have been frustrated by their own inability to turn linebreaks into tries during this tour, Gatland believes that theme is partly down to the illegal play of the Kiwi teams in denying support players access to the ball carrier.

“Absolutely. When you go back and look at the tapes and look at all the stuff off the ball, where someone’s run a line or stopped someone getting through, some of it is very subtle. That’s made it difficult.

referee Jaco Peyper Peyper will be in charge of the first Test. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“It’s part of the game in New Zealand, all New Zealand teams at the moment are doing it. Some of the referees are picking them up for that.

“We’ve just got to handle that and just hope the refs, the assistant refs and the TMOs pick up what’s going on. It’s just part of the game at the moment. A few years ago people weren’t quite so subtle. They’re very very subtle now.”

Gatland confirmed he will meet Peyper on Friday ahead of the first Test, when he will raise the issue again.

This kind of off-the-ball blocking does, of course, happen in the Northern Hemisphere too, but Gatland believes it is a far greater trend in this part of the world.

“I know how difficult it is to pick up for referees because it tends to happen away from the ball. Someone just changes the line and blocks; we clipped a lot of the situations. We have just got to be aware of it.

“For us, it’s being smart and hopefully the officials are aware of it. They were aware of it last night because they spoke about it a lot and they picked it up on a couple of occasions where we ended up with penalties and then a couple of other occasions they spoke about watching certain situations in terms of off the ball stuff.

“I am happy enough that if the referees are aware of it and they pick up teams for that, that would be good.

“If you look back the very first kick-off in Chicago with Ireland-All Blacks, the All Blacks were penalised for interference and blocking and stuff. All I am asking is the officials are aware of it and look at it and they did that last night so I was happy with it.”

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