'I don’t think there's a lot of difference between the Super Rugby sides and All Blacks'

Warren Gatland says he is happy to have tough tests in the build-up to the All Blacks clashes.

Murray Kinsella reports from Eden Park, Auckland

WARREN GATLAND SAYS he doesn’t believe there will be a major difference between the quality of New Zealand’s Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks team the Lions will face over three Tests.

Speaking after his side’s 22-16 defeat to the Blues, the Lions boss stressed that he was pleased with what he saw as progress from his side after last weekend’s underperformance against the Provincial Barbarians.

Warren Gatland Gatland is remaining positive. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

But the Blues are the weakest of the five Kiwi Super Rugby teams and with the undefeated Crusaders to come on Saturday in Christchurch, it won’t be getting any easier for the Lions.

“We have played a lot better tonight,” said Gatland after Ihaia West’s late try sealed the Blues’ victory. “We have put ourselves in a position to win the game. You can take a lot of positives from that and you can take a lot of things in your control that you can change and improve.

“Saturday is going to be another tough encounter but those players will have been together and gelled for that little bit longer and so I expect to see an improvement from tonight’s performance again on Saturday.

“There is so much strength in depth in this country. I don’t think there is going to be a lot of difference between some of the Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks. These guys have been together for seven months and the All Blacks are coming together cold.

“There is a massive amount of strength in depth and I don’t think an awful lot of difference between the teams.”

The Lions lost Dan Biggar to a failed HIA in the first half, while Jared Payne was replaced in the second with cramp in the same calf that kept him out of the Barbarians game on Saturday.

However, Gatland said there is no cause for concern there.

“He’s had that calf for a while, so it’s pleasing he got through 50 or 60 minutes. That calf will strengthen up.”

Sonny Bill Williams celebrates scoring their second try SBW did damage for the Blues. Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO Photosport / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO / Andrew Cornaga/INPHO

Rhys Webb also suffered cramp but will be fine, and Gatland can now look forward to bringing Owen Farrell, Conor Murray, Jamie George, Mako Vunipola, Tadhg Furlong, George Kruis, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Jonathan Davies, George North and Liam Williams into his starting team for the first time against the Crusaders.

The Lions need to find another gear in Christchurch, but Gatland is remaining positive about how they are tracking despite the defeat in Auckland.

He says he would rather have tough tests in the build-up to the clashes with the All Blacks than to be racking up cricket scores against weak opposition.

“Obviously, the [Williams] try on half time was disappointing and to get ourselves in front and concede a try – let’s taking nothing away from the try Ihaia West scored and the offloading of New Zealand teams and that is only going to continue, so we have to be a little bit better in stopping the offloading game.

“Generally we did that really well, I thought our line speed defensively coped with that. It was a moment of magic which you do get from New Zealand teams.

“I am happy that there is an improvement. I am disappointed that we lost the game obviously.

“But the thing about playing these quality sides… we talk about the Test match series and the preparation and go back to 2013 when we won the first game against the Barbarians and we won by 70 and we won the next game against Western Force by 60 and it wasn’t great preparation for the Test matches.

“We will have learned a lot from tonight and learned a lot about the opposition and I think we will keep improving.”

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