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Monday 11 December 2017

Gatland pleased with Lions progress

Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions have won their first three matches on tour
Warren Gatland's British and Irish Lions have won their first three matches on tour

Warren Gatland has declared himself "very, very happy" with the opening phase of his British and Irish Lions squad's Australia tour.

The Lions will depart Brisbane for Newcastle on Monday after preserving their 100 per cent record through a pulsating 22-12 victory over Queensland Reds. It followed successes against the Barbarians and Western Force, and another comfortable win looks likely on Tuesday when Gatland's men face a Combined Country XV at Hunter Stadium.

There are three games left before the first Test on June 22, and although the Lions have lost props Cian Healy and Gethin Jenkins to injuries - and wing Tommy Bowe has undergone surgery on his damaged hand - they are building strongly towards what should be a gripping series. "Absolutely. I'm very, very happy," Gatland said on Sunday.

"Yesterday's game was exactly what we wanted. We would like a couple more lead-in games, and for the first two games to be a bit tougher than they were, but that's what happens on tour - you are not dealing with tough teams all the time - so we will have to see what Tuesday is like.

"The Waratahs (next Saturday's opponents) are missing a lot of players as well, so how tough are they going to be? The Brumbies are different - they will be tough before that first Test."

The Lions had to dig deep at Suncorp Stadium, with fly-half Owen Farrell's 17-point haul making the difference after Reds backs Luke Morahan and Nick Frisby scored tries in each half.

Set-piece control was key to the Lions win, though, as they showcased a dominant scrum and an effective lineout, where locks Riche Gray and Geoff Parling both did their Test team chances no harm at all.

"I thought that (set-piece) was the victory in the game," Gatland added. "If you look at the way the Reds played - tactically, maybe Australia will do the same thing - they kept the ball in the park and only had about four lineouts.

"It was like watching Wales play against other teams. I thought our scrum was excellent and the lineout very good defensively.

"There needs to be a huge amount of credit placed on that part of our game."

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