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'We've played some lovely rugby': Lions will show positive, aggressive streak in attack, says Gatland

‘We’re not going to be talked into playing Barbarian-type rugby when we’ve got certain weapons we can use to our advantage.’

LIONS HEAD COACH Warren Gatland insists his team will ‘be bold and take risks’ in their bid to beat world champions New Zealand in Saturday morning’s first Test.

The Kiwi made some surprise calls in his matchday squad for long-awaited clash, leaving out his Welsh stalwarts Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Sam Warburton in favour of form Irish flankers and English wings with Scarlets’ Pro12 champion Liam Williams an exciting choice at fullback.

Conor Murray Conor Murray gets pumped for the first Test in Auckland. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Together with Elliott Daly, the Saracens-bound Welshman played an important role in igniting the Lions’ back-line against an under-strength Chiefs side on Tuesday and their selection is a clear indicator that Gatland is moving away from the oft-derided Warrenball. Even so, the skill-set of Steve Hansen’s back-line and the assured touches of Gatland’s pack will ensure the Test series is a clash of styles.

“We squeezed the life out of those two teams (Crusaders and Maori All Blacks) and we won’t stop being aggressive defensively,” says the Kiwi, content as any coach would be to enter a contest with a perception as the stronger pack.

To play against the All Blacks you’ve got to have a strong set-piece. You need a platform to be able to work off to start with. We’ve created opportunities, early on the tour we weren’t finishing, but on Tuesday we started to do that.”

After scoring two tries in their opening three matches of the tour, including the narrow win over a provincial selection, the tourists have increased their strike-rate to nine in the last three games as combinations begin to gel and moves become fluid enough to finish off openings.

“I think we’ve played some lovely rugby. We struggled at the start of the tour, but we’ve scored nine to three tries in the last four games.

“I can’t fault the players if we’re getting some success by dominating up front. We’re not going to be talked into playing Barbarian-type rugby when we’ve got certain weapons we can use to our advantage.

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“And that’s being smart about how you play. And hopefully we can be strong at set-piece and strong defensively at the weekend, and when the opportunities arise we can get in behind the All Blacks and finish the opportunities we create.”

Warren Gatland talks to his players Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“The message to the players before we came out to New Zealand was that to play the All Blacks you have to be bold and take risks. Yes ,we are playing to a structure as every team does, but we have been giving the confidence to the players to bring in an offloading game when it’s appropriate. We have seen some development and improvement on that and there were a couple of nice examples on Tuesday night of that coming together.

We know we have got to be courageous coming here, we’ve got to be bold and play some positive rugby.

“We feel our set-piece is getting better from game to game and we’ve improved defensively. We just need to bring that other element into the game, which is playing with some flair, taking some risks and being courageous and bold.”

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Sean Farrell

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