Wednesday 20 September 2017

'We need to rectify it' - Warren Gatland blames the scrum for Highlanders defeat

Alun Wyn Jones and his British and Irish Lions team-mates following the match between the Highlanders and the British & Irish Lions at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Alun Wyn Jones and his British and Irish Lions team-mates following the match between the Highlanders and the British & Irish Lions at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Nick Purewal

Warren Gatland admitted the British and Irish Lions must quickly fix their creaking scrum after losing the set-piece battle in their defeat to the Highlanders.

The Lions surrendered a 22-13 second-half lead at Forsyth Barr Stadium to lose 23-22, their second defeat in four matches in New Zealand.

Head coach Gatland insisted the Lions had the scrum under control heading into the Dunedin contest, only for the Highlanders to bulldoze a late set-piece and sink the tourists.

Asked if the scrum had cost the Lions the match, Gatland said: "It has. And I thought in the first half there were one or two scrums where we put them under pressure.

"I disagree with the first scrum penalty in the 22. But yes overall they did get on top of us and we need to make sure we go and work hard over the next couple of weeks to make sure we rectify it if there's an issue at scrum time.

"It's about staying alive for every moment. If you do switch off they take advantage.

"We've just been caught on one or two occasions, and I think the players will learn from those occasions."

The All Blacks have doubtless already decided to target the Lions' scrum across the course of this tour, given the way their Super Rugby sides have attempted to disrupt the tourists' set-piece approach.

What was viewed as a weapon ahead of the trip is now under some pressure for the Lions, though their likely Test-match front-row of Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong should at least hold its own.

Right from the off the Highlanders were telling referee Angus Gardner that they had dominance at the scrum.

And when Dan Cole came on to the field, television match official (TMO) Marius Jonker told Gardner via the radio link to watch the replacement tighthead's binding.

When asked how to combat the New Zealanders' bid to shift scrum perception in their favour, Gatland said the Lions should just keep calm and carry on.

"I look to those two penalties against Dan Cole, and I think the first one's a penalty to us, the loosehead has gone down," said Gatland.

"The officials have seen a different picture.

"There's no doubt they've got some ascendancy in the second scrum penalty and I accept that, but I thought the first one, we'd forced an error.

"But look, you've just got to take those on the chin.

"And it's the same with the TMO who has made the call on whether it was obstruction or not. That's just part of it.

"We've gone from single-figure penalties to double-figure penalties again.

"That's eight or nine penalties in that last 10 or 12 minutes and that really hurt us.

"We've got to make sure we're better in those moments, because sometimes that's the difference between winning and losing games.

"We've got to make sure we adapt during the game with the way teams are scrummaging against us."

Courtney Lawes went off with a nasty-looking head injury. Gatland said the Northampton lock is recovering well, but will now go through the head-injury protocols.

Rhys Webb suffered a bang to his leg, but otherwise the Lions have no fresh injuries.

"Rhys just has a haematoma, he's fine," said Gatland.

"And Courtney will go through the HIA protocols."

Waisake Naholo was released by the All Blacks to face the Lions and grabbed a try in an assured performance. Highlanders coach Scott MacLeod hailed the bustling wing.

Asked if Naholo had played his way into the All Blacks side, MacLeod replied: "I'd like to hope so, we hold high expectations of Waisake as he does for himself.

"He was released earlier in the week for us and he put in a high-quality performance."

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