Murray Kinsella reports from Rotorua International Stadium
LIONS BOSS WARREN Gatland has hit back at All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen ahead of next weekend’s first Test in Auckland, suggesting that the Kiwi boss is worried about the quality of the tourists.
Hansen has sniped at Gatland in recent weeks, commenting on the Lions coach’s style of play, suggesting that he is running out of time to come up with the surprises he has been promising, and also revealing that the Lions would call up additional players this week.
Gatland had largely avoided sparring with Hansen in the media but after his Lions side claimed a dominant 32-10 victory over the Maori All Blacks, he bit back at his Kiwi counterpart, claiming that he is concerned about the Lions.
“I’m surprised by Steve Hansen, who is normally pretty calm and he has been doing a lot of press conferences and I can only take that as a sign of respect in that he is a little bit worried,” said Hansen.
“They arranged a pretty quick game against Samoa and if you saw the first 20 to 30 minutes, they needed that. They were obviously outstanding in the second half. It’s unlike Steve and maybe he is worried by potentially how good this team can be.
“We know we have got a big step up to play the All Blacks but all I can say is that this could be a great series with fantastic rugby. Everyone should get excited. Wherever we have been in New Zealand, the welcome has been brilliant, I can’t speak more highly of that.
“The off-field stuff, similar to the stuff that people have been saying [in the media], puts a bit of a dampener on the tour. But that’s professional sport, you’ve got to deal with that and move.
“It’s not anything that is a worry for us but you go, ‘Woah, he is a little bit more worried than he normally is, saying these comments about us, things he knows about or doesn’t know about.’ That is normally a sign of a man that is a little bit worried.”
Hansen had suggested that the Lions’ decision to call up six additional players this week would divide their camp and spread disharmony through Gatland’s squad, but the Lions boss rubbished that claim.
Welshmen Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and Tomas Francis have already linked with the Lions in New Zealand, while Scotland’s Finn Russell and Allan Dell are on the way, causing plenty of uproar among Lions fans.
“There is no way we are divided into two,” said Gatland, however. “We’ve got a big game against the Chiefs on Tuesday night.
“I look back on 2013 and between the first and third Test there were nine different selections so the players who may not be involved in the first Test have to stay alive, you have to stay in it because you may not get a chance in the second or third Test.
“We’ve said all along that it’s about preparing and learning from the games warming up but it’s all about the Test series, it’s about winning the Test series and that’s what we need to do.
“I said if we drop a couple of games along the way then we can benefit from that, if we learn from the experience. Everyone’s got to be excited for what can be a great Test series.
“We’ve been written off, and apart from people saying that’s put a split in us, it’s brought us closer together as a group. The harmony and the boys singing in the changing rooms from the guys who weren’t involved tonight and what it means to them in terms of the whole squad, we’re very, very close.
“If Steve Hansen knows what’s going on from outside, then he’s a much better man than I am.”
Source: The42 Rugby Show/SoundCloud
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