Sunday 25 February 2018

Gatland: We can take it as a sign of respect that Hansen is worried

Head coach Warren Gatland
Head coach Warren Gatland

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Rotorua

Lions coach Warren Gatland believes Steve Hansen is worried about the impending Test series as he expressed his disappointment with the constant barbs emanating from the All Black camp ahead of the Test Series.

After his side saw off the Maori with an impressive forward performance, the Kiwi coach responded to the constant pressure being applied by his opposite number who used his press conferences in the build-up to Friday’s warm-up game against Samoa to have a succession of digs.

ansen got one over the Lions when he predicted that the tourists would bring on reinforcements for the Chiefs game next week, while he suggested there is a split in the tourists' camp reminiscent of the disastrous 2005 tour.

Gatland has gone out of his way to show respect for his home country and admitted he has been disappointed with some of the partisan coverage his team have received from the home media, which has been at odds with the welcome they’ve gotten on the ground.

And he said Hansen’s constant sniping is a back-handed compliment as he ramped things up significantly ahead of next Saturday’s eagerly awaited Test.

“A little bit,” he replied when asked if he was disappointed by the tone of the New Zealand coach’s comments after 32-10 win in Rotorua.

“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.

“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.

“Everyone can get excited. Wherever we have been in New Zealand, the welcome has been brilliant. I can’t speak more highly of that.

“The off-field stuff, similar to the stuff that people have been saying puts a bit of a dampener on the tour.

“But that’s professional  sport, got to deal with that and move. Not anything that is a worry for us but you go, ‘whoah, he is a little bit more worried than he normally is saying these comments about us, things he knows about or doesn’t know about? That is normally a sign of a man that is a little bit worried.”

Hansen has suggested that Gatland’s camp is a divided one after he controversially added four Welsh players and two Scots to bolster his squad.

“No way we are divided,” he said.

“I thought I just spoke about Steve Hansen then. There is no way we are divided into two.

“We’ve got a big game against the Chiefs on Tuesday night. I look back on 2013 and we made 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.

We’ve said all along that it’s about preparing and learning from the games warming up but it’s all about the Test series, it’s about winning the Test series and that’s what we need to do.

“I said if we drop a couple of games a long the way then we can benefit from that if we learn from the experience. Everyone’s got to be excited for what can be a great Test series.

“We’ve been written off, and apart from people saying that’s put a split in us, it’s brought us closer together as a group.

“The harmony and the boys singing in the changing rooms from the guys who weren’t involved tonight and what it means to them in terms of the whole squad, we’re very, very close.

“If Steve Hansen knows what’s going on from outside, then he’s a much better man than I am.”

Before this morning’s win, Gatland came in for sustained criticism from all corners with even Ian McGeechan saying the decision to bring in the extra squad players on the basis of geography rather than merit didn’t sit right with him.

Eddie Jones went a step further, lending his voice to those who said the decision devalued the jersey and while Gatland said he could see their point he said the Test series is all that matters to him.

"I'll let Eddie do his own talking. He can do plenty of it so.... we made the decision that we think is the best decision from us,” he said.

“I understand Eddie's concern, people's concern - his point, I suppose - but I just understand how difficult it is to do that travel from Argentina; it's not as if you're in Buenos Aires, you've got to get here and get around the world and acclimatise.

“You use past experiences for that.

“For us, the time-frame was having a look to see how the Highlanders game went; what injuries we would have and how we would cope with that and then looking to make the right decision for us.

Does it devalue the shirt? You’re only a Lion when you get on the field and there’s a few of those players that were probably unlucky not to potentially be in contention in the first place.

“We’ve picked up a couple of injuries. In terms of devaluing the shirt, I can see some peoples point on that but we’re here to win a Test series and it’s those guys covering from Auckland, not travelling halfway around the world.

“We found it difficult the first 10 days when we were here in terms of jetlag and tiredness and stuff. The players that came in from Auckland last night and from Australia will be able to fit quickly into that time zone.”

Gatland was upbeat on the prospects of Owen Farrell making the Test series, while Peter O’Mahony gave himself the thumbs-up after he required treatment on his knee before being replaced.

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