wounded pride

'If I felt that I was physically dominated, I'd be wanting to fix that'

Lions head coach Warren Gatland has challenged his players to win more collisions in Test two.

Murray Kinsella reports from Wellington

WARREN GATLAND HAS challenged his Lions players to show their pride after being “physically dominated” for large parts of the first Test defeat to the All Blacks on Saturday in Auckland.

While Gatland is likely to make a handful of changes to his starting XV, with Sam Warburton and Maro Itoje in line to come in, he wants to see more from the men who retain their places for the second Test in Wellington.

British and Irish Lions Jack McGrath George Kruis Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien The Lions were second best at Eden Park. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Steve Hansen’s All Blacks surprised the Lions by playing with a direct, narrow attacking game plan for extended periods of their victory in Eden Park and Gatland was disappointed to see his side losing so many collisions.

While the Lions had purple patches during the game and were very much in the mix at 13-8 after half time, when they missed chances to draw level or move ahead, they came off second best in the physical exchanges.

Now Gatland has questioned their pride and he expects to see a vicious response in Test two.

“If I was playing on Saturday night and I felt that I was physically dominated, I’d be a little bit disappointed in myself and I’d be doing everything I could physically do the following week to make sure I fixed that area of the game,” said Gatland.

If I felt my pride was hurt a little bit, I’d be wanting to fix that. That’s what I’d be doing as a player.

“I think they’re aware that we weren’t as strong in that contact area as we can be and we have to improve.

“I’m not saying it was for the entire 80 minutes – there were times when we were excellent, times when the defence was good and times when we carried well. But overall they got the better of us in that area and we need to improve in that aspect.”

With the likes of Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Sam Cane and Kieran Read leading the way, the All Blacks fired far more of the notable physical shots in the first Test.

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland during the training Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Hansen’s side were brutally effective at the breakdown, while they managed the Lions’ set-piece expertly, hammered into tackles and made far greater dents in the defence around the fringes.

Gatland believes the Lions can fix their relatively passive performance in contact in time for the second Test, suggesting that it will come down to mindset for his players. Any improvement will have a knock-on effect for other areas of their game, Gatland believes.

“Sometimes it’s an attitude thing, getting off the line and winning collisions,” he said. “It’s just a mental thing.

“In fairness to them, they were pretty aggressive at the breakdown, came hard and won the collisions. It’s disappointing, sometimes that’s a pride factor, you know?

“It’s as simple as mentally getting things right. You have to challenge the players mentally for that physical challenge and on Saturday that’s one area they got the better of us, I’ll be frank about that.

“We need to make sure that we’re a lot more physical in the contact area in both attack and defence. If we get that right, the transfer from that area to other parts of the game will be huge.”

While the Lions are focusing their attention on themselves this week, there were some grievances with the refereeing of Jaco Peyper in Auckland.

Frenchman Jerome Garces is likely to suit the Lions better in the second Test in Wellington, but there were clear frustrations in the series opener.

British and Irish Lions Owen Farrell George Kruis Taulope Falateau Sean O’Brien and Jack McGrath dejected The Lions are fighting to keep the series alive this weekend. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

“I think the players were frustrated at the breakdown and frustrated that they felt they had got on the ball at times and sometimes when it is not going your way and you feel that [it should be],” said Gatland.

“I spoke to Sean O’Brien afterwards and he was frustrated, he felt they were getting three seconds opportunity on the ball defensively and felt they were given a lot more chance to clear it.”

The Lions will hope for more reward over the ball in the second clash with the All Blacks, but fixing their contact work is the clear priority.

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