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'We shot ourselves in the foot' - Gatland bemoans Lions discipline and scrum

The Lions boss was disappointed but won’t be dwelling on defeat for too long.

Murray Kinsella reports from Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

THE LIONS LOOKED to be in control with a 22-13 lead and just over a quarter of the game left, but they managed to lose to the Highlanders and head coach Warren Gatland bemoaned their lack of control, poor discipline and scrum issues after the 23-22 defeat.

Dan Biggar leaves the field after the game Dan Biggar shows his dejection at the final whistle. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The loss in Dunedin means the Lions have won just two of their first four games on the tour of New Zealand.

Gatland’s squad travel to Rotorua tomorrow, where they will take on the Maori All Blacks on Saturday, eager to get some momentum back after defeat against the Highlanders.

“The unfortunate thing is we probably shot ourselves in the foot with some turnovers and some penalties towards the end of the game and we have allowed them the opportunity to sneak it from us,” said Gatland.

“We are disappointed but there were some big moments, some key moments we need to work on and improve and make sure that we are better next time that we take the field.

“The big lesson about New Zealand sides is that they keep playing for 80 minutes and they keep going for the full 80 minutes and that’s probably the big learning some of the players got from tonight.”

The Lions’ discipline went out the window in the closing quarter as they allowed the superb Highlanders to claw their way to a victory that was secured by Marty Banks’ 74th-minute penalty.

That penalty came from a monstrous Highlanders scrum that saw them demolish the Lions pack and Gatland admitted that that area had caused some concern for the Lions.

“It has,” said Gatland when asked if the scrum had cost them. “I thought in the first half there were one or two scrums where we put them under pressure. I disagree with the interpretation on the first penalty in their 22 but, yes, they’ve got on top of us.

“We need to adapt to that and make sure we work really hard over the next couple of weeks to rectify an issue, if there is one, at scrum time. And that’s what it’s about.

Jonathan Joseph knocks the ball on at the end of the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Sometimes with New Zealand teams, our message to the players is about staying alive and about every moment. You can switch off for a fraction of a second and if you do switch off they take advantage of that.

“It’s about every moment of every minute and we’ve just been caught on one or two occasions.

“I think the players will learn from that experience and it’s great for us that we’re playing against the quality of sides that we’re up against because that’s what prepares you for the next challenge and the next challenge for us is the Maori on Saturday.”

The Lions will field something close to their Test side against the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua and one talking point to emerge tonight in Dunedin was the apparent difference in quality between those frontliners and the midweek team.

Many of the players involved in the defeat to the Highlanders will not be in the Test matchday squad, but Gatland rejected the idea that there is a clear gulf.

“No, I think it was tough on these guys in that there has been a quick turnaround for them in terms of playing Wednesday [against the Blues] and then travelling Thursday, so they haven’t had a lot of time together and this being a Tuesday fixture.

“There hasn’t been a lot of training time for that group with the guys, whereas the Crusaders have had a bit of time together.

“The thing is every team’s different about the way that they play and I thought we probably learned a little bit tonight in terms of how I thought our kicking game was excellent on Saturday and then the Highlanders’ kicking strategy stressed us a little bit.

Siua Halanukonuka celebrates his sides victory Siua Halanukonuka celebrates the win. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“Some of guys are normally excellent in the air, we didn’t retain possession or we would give possession back and they seemed to have a lot more success from their kicking strategy than we did tonight, so we need to look at that and we need to change things up and get better and improve from that experience.

“From a game point of view, it is another big step up for us and another big learning opportunity and as I said it is about building for a couple of weeks and that first Test match and so we will have got a lot from tonight.”

Meanwhile, Gatland confirmed that Courtney Lawes had failed his HIA after a head injury and will now go through the return-to-play protocols, while Rhys Webb suffered a bruised glute.

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Murray Kinsella

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