LIONS HEAD COACH Warren Gatland has brushed off any suggestion there is a split in the tourists’ camp ahead of Saturday’s first Test, insisting that his squad are in a good place after this morning’s win over the Chiefs.
Gatland’s side ran in four tries en route to a 34-6 victory over their Super Rugby opponents in Hamilton to maintain the momentum heading into their first battle with the All Blacks.
The vast majority of the matchday 23 won’t be involved when the serious business begins in Auckland and afterwards Gatland put to bed any notion that there was discontent within the Lions ranks.
“Whatever people might say about a split in the camp, those boys are pretty together,” he said, in response to claims by the New Zealand Herald newspaper.
“There was a real spirit in there and there was a sing-song after the game. It was important for this group. It was a really strong performance against the Maori and we didn’t want this group not winning tonight and they put in a commanding performance.
“In the changing room afterwards, everyone realised just what it meant, not just for the players that took the field, but the rest of the squad. They were incredibly vocal and you could see how pleased they were for the players that took the field.
“We had quite a big sing-song in the changing room. It was a good feeling, I was pleased for the players.”
Following the win over the Maori All Blacks last weekend, Gatland’s midweek side ensured the tourists continued on the upward trajectory heading to Eden Park where they will draw battle lines with Steve Hansen’s world champions.
While there have been strong indications that Gatland has already settled on his 23 for Saturday, a number of players pushed their case for inclusion earlier, including Liam Williams, Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell and Ireland’s Iain Henderson.
When asked if some of the individual performances will give him food for thought before announcing his Test XV on Wednesday at 8pm Irish time, Gatland said: “The result was pretty important for that group of guys. We’ve spoken about the disappointment of the players who were involved in the Blues and Highlanders games where we have been in front after 70 minutes.
“The result was the first priority and the performance after that. We were pleased with that and some guys put their hands up tonight.
“The selection meeting will be with all the coaches. It’s the consensus of that group, it’s never one person’s call. It’s coaches discussing the options and the positions and collectively agreeing. I am sure there will be some lively debate and discussion. It won’t be saying, it will be all of us contributing and having a voice and an opinion.
Unsurprisingly, Gatland was giving nothing away in his post-match press conference, reacting to a question about Elliot Daly’s second half withdrawal and whether that puts him in the frame for Saturday with a grin and one word: possibly.
Nevertheless, the head coach was satisfied with his team’s performances but said, rather inevitably, that they’ll have to step it up another level, at least, going forward.
“I am still not happy that we lost a couple of games. We have always said how difficult this tour was, we known how tough the schedule is and the quality opposition. It’s not like previous tours. This is unlike anything that’s been taken on before.
“We said if we lost a couple of games, it’s about improving from week to week. We have demonstrated that. We have got better the longer we have been in New Zealand, as combinations have come together. We said we would do that and we have done.
“From a defensive point of view, we are getting stronger and stronger. We are playing against teams that have scored multiple tries week-in, week-out and we are strangling them a little bit.
“But on Saturday we are up against the best team in world in their own back yard where they haven’t lost since 1994. It’s going a big test for us.”
– With reporting from Murray Kinsella in Hamilton
Source: The42 Rugby Show/SoundCloud
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