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New Zealand media whip up scrum frenzy but Gatland defends French ref

Mathieu Raynal was dubbed a ‘villain’ after the Lions beat the Crusaders.

Murray Kinsella reports from Dunedin

THE LIONS WERE never likely to get out of Christchurch with too many pats on the back after victory over the Crusaders, but the scale of the local frustration over Mathieu Raynal’s refereeing performance has been eye-opening.

The French official penalised the Super Rugby side several times at the scrum, and though some of the decisions could be argued either way, they didn’t appear to be the deciding of the game.

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland during the press conference Gatland defended referee Mathieu Raynal. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There was some praise for how the Lions improved against the Crusaders, but the majority of the post-match focus in the New Zealand media has been on Raynal and refereeing.

Former All Black John Kirwan was critical of the French referee on Sky TV in New Zealand, while the Sunday Star Times went as far as to say that Kiwis had found “a new villain” in Raynal.

There have been several comparisons to Wayne Barnes and 2007, while the New Zealand Herald followed up by delivering the “good news for All Blacks fans” that Raynal will not be involved in the Test series against the Lions.

And while the Lions felt they were on top of the scrums on Saturday night, former All Blacks coach Graham Henry has come out today to state his belief that the scrum should be an area for concern for Warren Gatland in the Tests.

One of the issues is the differences in scrummaging interpretations between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres – down south, they like to lean in and pre-engage to take out any gap before the ‘set’ call – but Gatland was hardly likely to accept the New Zealand narrative that the Lions had been let off the hook in the scrums.

The Lions boss said he was comfortable with where the Lions’ scrum stands and even suggested that Super Rugby teams are scrummaging illegally.

“I felt they had one scrum where they had some ascendancy,” said Gatland after the Lions arrived in Dunedin on Sunday, “but I thought on the whole we scrummaged pretty well. There was one where they just got a little bit under us.

inpho_01220890 The Lions got their tour up and running in Christchurch. Source: Photosport/Martin Hunter/INPHO

“I know there was some discussion, but I thought the referee did a good job, I didn’t have any issues with that. It’s an area that we’ll keep working hard on. We’ve spoken to the front rowers about that.

“It’s not something I’m concerned about. I’m a little bit surprised that such a huge amount’s been made of the scrum, [as if] it was all down to that.

“If you look at the numbers elsewhere in terms of every other area of the game, I thought we dominated in every other area: lineout, territory, possession, carries, linebreaks. So I think our scrum will be very strong by the time we come around to Test time.

“I know there’s some discussion about engagement, the ruling says you must have a small gap and in Super Rugby they pre-load. We’ve practised for both scenarios having come to New Zealand.

“So we have prepared to fully pre-load, and we’ve also practised with having a slight gap as well, depending on how the referee interprets it.

“The law says there must be a small gap; they don’t play to the law of the game. So Super Rugby sides tend to scrummage illegally, if that’s the case.

“But I don’t think the scrum’s going to be a problem for us.”

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Murray Kinsella

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