Tuesday 16 January 2018

Hansen hits back at 'desperate' Gatland as truce collapses

Steve Hansen, head coach of the All Blacks looks on during the Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on June 24, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images
Steve Hansen, head coach of the All Blacks looks on during the Test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on June 24, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

They held their counsel and stayed respectful for a couple of days, but the truce between Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen simply couldn't hold and the rival coaches were at each others' throats in the media once again yesterday.

The Lions supremo's accusation that the All Blacks had dangerously targeted Conor Murray's standing leg provoked a withering response from his opposite number, who has largely been the aggressor on this tour.

Having read Gatland's comments, Hansen picked up a phone to a New Zealand radio station to launch a withering rebuke in defence of his players.

Describing the Lions coach as both "predictable" and "desperate", Hansen upped the ante ahead of Saturday's potentially decisive second Test in Wellington.

Murray found himself in the uncomfortable position of being used as a political football between the feuding coaches, who have been sniping at one another since Gatland named his squad.

Gatland's comments on Sunday were rooted in concern for his player, who has endured this sort of treatment in the past.

Whatever about the late shoves, the incident where Jerome Kaino hurled himself at Murray's standing leg early in the first-half demands further investigation.

When Glasgow came at him with a similar tactic in January, Murray went public with his fury.

"I'm properly p***ed off about that," he said.

"I don't see any benefit in charging down someone's standing leg, I only see it as a danger or as a potential to get injured.

"Luckily my leg came out of the ground and I managed to fall over, but if my leg stayed in the ground you're looking at syndesmosis, you're looking at the cruciate (ligament).

"I'm not blaming the players. I don't know who told them to do it, but it's very dangerous. Thankfully I didn't get injured. They're the only team I've come across that did it."

Joe Schmidt later echoed his comments, which Gatland referenced when he addressed the issue on Sunday.

"From my point of view, if someone pushes him afterwards that's fine, but diving at his leg... I know other teams have used that in the past and I think Joe has come out and was pretty critical about that being a tactic other teams have used against Conor," the Lions coach said.

"It's just a safety issue for me. I'd hate to see someone dive at his leg and have him blow a knee and then wreck his rugby career."

That seemed fair enough, but Hansen doesn't take kindly to his players being accused of foul play.

He bristled when the Irish public and media questioned his team's overly physical approach in November and Gatland's suggestion of impropriety did not go down well.

So, he picked up his phone to Radio Live NZ and responded.

"Well, it's predictable comments from Gatland, isn't it?" he said. "Two weeks go it was that we cheated in the scrums, last week it was blocking, and now it's this.

Disappointing

"It's really, really disappointing to hear it because what he's implying is that we are intentionally going out to injure somebody and that's not the case.

"We've never been like that and as a New Zealander I would expect him to know the psyche that it's not about intentionally trying to hurt anybody. It's about playing hard and fair.

"It's just really, really disappointing to hear him say that and take the gloss off not only the Test match but from his own team's performance as well.

"I guess he might be a bit desperate or something, but I don't know why he's saying it.

"We're trying to block down the kick and/or tackle him - both those things are legal. Just because he's one of their key players, it doesn't mean that he has the right to go around the park without being charged down or tackled."

Predictably, the players and coaches put forward for media duties yesterday did their best to sidestep the issue, but shots had been fired once again.

It may be a sideshow to the on-field battle, but it is likely to dominate the agenda once again this week as Gatland is due to speak after this morning's game against the Hurricanes.

Peace in our time looks a long way away.

Irish Independent

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