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Steve Hansen says Gatland will call extra players into his Lions squad

The All Blacks boss says Warren Gatland is getting ready to split his squad into two teams.

Murray Kinsella reports from New Zealand

STEVE HANSEN IS never afraid of a mind game or two, and the All Blacks boss’ latest mischievous suggestion is that Warren Gatland is about to call in a crop of reinforcements in order to split his Lions squad into two.

Steve Hansen Hansen was speaking in Auckland today. Source: Photosport/Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

This kind of splitting of the Lions squad into midweekers and the Test side is often pointed to as one of the major reasons for unhappiness on the Clive Woodward-led tour of New Zealand in 2005.

But All Blacks boss Hansen, speaking after naming his team to face Samoa on Friday, suggested that Gatland is about to do exactly that following an underperformance from his team against the Highlanders on Tuesday.

“I think there is a clear difference between their two teams – their midweek team and their Saturday team,” said Hansen.

“I think he [Gatland] is about to bring a few extra players out to give himself the ability to play two squads. He’s at the stage where he wants to do that.

“I guess he will bring them out from the UK.”

When it was pointed out that Gatland had already included New Zealand-born players in his squad and could look there again, Hansen fired back a joke.

“He probably didn’t pick enough of them, I would suggest!”

A largely second-string Lions team did struggle against the Highlanders at crucial times, and Hansen believes it showed a divide in the squad.

“It was a good game of footie on Tuesday night in Dunedin and both teams participated in that and it could have gone either way. So I don’t think they have lost too much ground in that department.

“But there is definitely a difference between the two squads in the way they are performing.”

Despite losing Stuart Hogg to injury for the rest of the tour and an ongoing back issue for back row Ross Moriarty, the Lions have so far not said that they will be calling on additional players, having initially named a large squad of 41.

Gatland has also stated that he is keen to retain a strong sense of cohesion within his Lions squad, rather than having a divide between the Test team and the rest.

Whether Hansen is simply stirring the pot remains to be seen, but his words are sure to frustrate Gatland – true or not.

The Lions boss has said that he is holding things back in the warm-up stages of the tour, both tactically and in terms of personnel combinations, but Hansen seemed unconcerned.

“There might well be some things kept back, but the basics of their game aren’t going to change,” said the All Blacks boss. “It hasn’t changed since he has been coaching, has it?

“If you look at the basics of our game, we haven’t changed much either from when I took over. We all have our own style.”

One thing Hansen is expecting is an aerial bombardment and with Ben Smith and Isreal Dagg both selected in the back three for Samoa on Friday, along with Julian Savea, it looks like his side are preparing themselves in that area.

“We know that Conor Murray is going to kick the ball a lot,” said Hansen. “We have always selected people in the past who can catch those, so that will be one of the things we will look at when it comes to that first Test.”

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Murray Kinsella

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