Sunday 22 April 2018

Gatland: Lions have played excellent rugby and should leave NZ with respect

Warren Gatland would like to think the British and Irish Lions can leave New Zealand next week with respect and believes there is "another level" in them for Saturday's Test series decider.

Victory for Gatland's Lions against the world champion All Blacks would give the tourists a first Test series triumph over New Zealand since 1971.

Either way, the 10-game tour is set for a shuddering conclusion at Eden Park - a ground where the All Blacks are unbeaten for 23 years.

And exactly what it means to the Lions was highlighted by some particularly intense training on Thursday, with a few verbals happening during the session.

The Lions have taken more than their fair share of media criticism since arriving in New Zealand more than five weeks ago, and Gatland revealed that even the All Blacks' 2011 World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry had been left embarrassed by some of it.

"I was talking to Jan Gethin and (Welsh Rugby Union president) Dennis Gethin (on Wednesday) night, and they happened to be on a plane coming (to Auckland) with Graham Henry, who they knew from Wales," head coach Gatland said.

"Graham said to them he has been embarrassed about some of the media coverage in New Zealand.

"But that has been the way, and is it the future of professional sport? I'm not too sure. Things are changing all the time on social media and all that stuff. But from a personal point of view, the reaction from the public here has been awesome.

"Despite sometimes the direction one of the national newspapers in New Zealand has taken, everywhere I've gone, there have been people being positive about the tour.

"It's kind of been a yin and yang type of thing. You are hearing one side of it or reading one side of it, but that is not reflective of what I have been experiencing here as a coach and as a person.

"I think we've played some good rugby.

"People expected us to come here and kick the leather off it, drive every single lineout, to try and scrummage people to death. We haven't done that. We've played a good brand, and people have been surprised by that, almost reluctant to give us credit for that.

"We've scored four tries (in the first two Tests), and they've been four great tries. We've played some excellent rugby. I would like to think we leave here with some respect for the way we have played, and will be reflected on Saturday.

"We are confident we can improve again, and that there is another level."

Gatland also believes that New Zealand have changed tack with their outlook, showing the Lions respect.

"The (All Blacks) mystique is definitely not lost," Gatland added.

"But it's kind of like the All Blacks going into games not worried about the opposition, just going to pick their own team, play their own game and worry about themselves. That's what we have been doing.

"They have looked like they have picked a team initially to stop our defensive line-speed, maybe picked a team now to stop our 10-12 combination.

"They've changed their game-plan and style. I see that as a massive sign of respect of them to us, them looking at us, negating our strengths and threats, and that is a positive. Hopefully, we leave on Saturday having earned the respect of the New Zealand public and secured the future of the Lions."

Gatland, meanwhile, gave short shrift to any suggestion the Lions might be content with a 2-1 series loss, having already beaten New Zealand for a first time in 24 years with their win in Wellington last weekend.

"I haven't witnessed that," he said. "I hope I don't see it on Saturday night because that would be pretty disappointing.

"There are a group of players there who are incredibly competitive and realise this is a massive opportunity to win a series in New Zealand. It doesn't come round very often.

"When you play the All Blacks, there has always been that kind of fear factor. You see it in the eyes of the players, sometimes - they hold the All Blacks in such high esteem.

"Our players have got a confidence and self-belief at the moment which is really, really positive. We knew how desperate we had to be last week, and I think we can go on and take it to another level."

Press Association

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