Gatland: Sexton critics unfair
Warren Gatland attempted to take the focus off his under-performing players and onto the Lions tour organisers and commercial team after yesterday's under-whelming opener in Whangarei.
After all the hype, the tour began with a whimper against the collection of Super Rugby fringe players, club stalwarts and semi-professionals representing the Provincial Barbarians.
A disappointing Johnny Sexton was hauled off after 48 minute, while a host of others appeared to lose ground in the race for a Test spot but Gatland said it would be unfair to judge players too harshly because they only arrived in New Zealand on Wednesday.
The head coach said some players were still struggling to adjust to their sleep patterns after their long-haul flight that took in an extra stop in Melbourne as part of their Qantas sponsorship.
Gatland reported a relatively short injury list, but he lamented back spasms suffered by Welsh flanker Ross Moriarty and English prop Kyle Sinckler and suggested the issues were down to a car journey that saw the Lions make the trip from Auckland to Whangarei in four-wheel drives, making community visits.
"I think that's pretty unfair in terms of making an assessment like that," Gatland said when asked if Sexton had lost ground on Owen Farrell in the race for the Test team.
"These guys arrived on Wednesday and are still recovering from the travel. A number of players in the squad still haven't got into regular sleep patterns.
"We knew it was going to be difficult in terms of adjusting to that and preparing in such a short period.
"For us the most important thing was the result and getting the tour off to a good start and we can go away knowing that there are a number of things for us to work on and some positives out there in terms of the opportunities and chances that we did create, and knowing that we have to be better at finishing them. A couple of guys got back spasms. Ross Moriarty and Kyle Sinkler. We've done community stuff yesterday where the guys have been sitting in cars for five hours, coming up (to Whangarei) and probably still recovering from the effects of that flight as well.
"We'd have preferred to have a week in the UK with the squad and a week in New Zealand. We've known about the schedule for 12 months and it's difficult to change that. I think that the powers that be in four years' time will think about the schedule and the importance of having the right preparation and the right time. The ideal scenario would've been to have a week in New Zealand before the first game."
The Lions take on the Auckland Blues on Wednesday and Gatland confirmed that he'll name an entirely new starting XV.
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