Sexton: Pressure is on the All Blacks
The Lions are turning up the heat on New Zealand ahead of this week's Test series opener at Eden Park as Warren Gatland suggested Steve Hansen is a worried man and Johnny Sexton claimed the world champions are under pressure to replicate the 'Black-wash' of 2005.
The tourists put a tumultuous build-up to yesterday morning's clash with the Maori All Blacks behind them to secure an impressive 32-10 win after shipping criticism for calling up four Welsh and two Scottish players to sit on the bench for the remaining midweek games in order to ring-fence the Test 23.
Peter O'Mahony's side outscored the home side 20-0 in the second half with an impressive forward-driven performance.
Sexton put in his best display of the season in Owen Farrell's absence and Gatland was upbeat about the England outhalf's prospects of making it back for the series opener at Eden Park.
The 31-year-old Ireland No 10 guided the Lions to a 2-1 victory over Australia in 2013 and while he knows this series will be tougher, he believes the hosts are feeling the heat.
"It's a much bigger challenge to 2013, the guys that were there can use the experience they gained with regards to the pressure," he said.
"This is the biggest challenge in rugby to take the All Blacks on in Eden Park, they haven't lost there in however many years and it's something you have to get excited about. It's a huge opportunity that doesn't come by very often, there's been legends of New Zealand who have never played the Lions and they'll be well aware of that.
"I'm sure they'll be under big pressure as well with the expectation of trying to live up to what happened 12 years ago and it's a rugby-mad country so the pressure is on."
Gatland, meanwhile, returned fire on Hansen who has been attempting to undermine the Lions coach in the build-up to the Tests. Hansen scored a big win when he predicted the arrival of reinforcements, while he suggested the touring party was being split down the middle a la the disastrous 2005 campaign under Clive Woodward.
"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," he said.
"They arranged a pretty quick game against Samoa and if you saw the first 20-30 minutes, they needed that. 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.
"The off-field stuff, similar to the stuff that people have been saying, puts a bit of a dampener on the tour."
Gatland defended his decision to call Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill and Gareth Davies in from the Wales squad who beat Tonga in Auckland on Friday, while Finn Russell and Allen Dell were drafted in after Scotland beat Australia in Sydney, with Ian McGeechan and Eddie Jones among those to criticise the call-ups.
The players will be in camp for one week, covering the bench for the mid-week games against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes and will leave before the second Test.
Hansen has suggested that Gatland's camp is a divided one after the controversial call-ups, but the Lions boss denied this.
"No way we are divided," he said.
"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."
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