Lions pulled together in face of criticism – Gatland

1:29 PM BST

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — The British & Irish Lions have endured a tough week, but as Warren Gatland reflected on the win over the Crusaders he spoke of how they have used the criticism levelled in their direction to draw closer as a group.

The Lions put in a defensively outstanding performance against the Crusaders on Saturday night as they downed the unbeaten Super Rugby side 12-3 at AMI Park. Though they are struggling to finish off attacking moves, it was a performance of real heart after a week in which they have fielded criticism after a slow start to the tour which saw them edge past the NZ Provincial Barbarians and lose to the Blues.

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Gatland has received criticism in the local press and said to TalkSport after the win in Christchurch that he had been subject to a “targeted campaign against me personally”. He has used that to bring out the best in himself and the rocky start to the tour has seen the group circle the wagons and draw ever closer.

“We’ve known about the quality of the players we’ve got and I just keep repeating myself that with more time together we’ll be better,” Gatland said.

“It’s been a tough week. It’s been very tough this week. There’s been a lot of criticism and people have written the tour off already after two games. That’s been challenging, it’s been challenging for all of us. We need to stay strong in the group and keep the faith.

“The goal is the Test matches and to keep improving for that. I hope we didn’t disappoint any people tonight with the result.”

Gatland was delighted with his team’s showing in defence, the linespeed and offloading game but said they must get better at converting chances with a number of opportunities squandered against the Crusaders.

The Lions celebrate their victory as Crusaders scrum-half Mitchell Drummond laments defeat. David Rogers/Getty Images

He also hailed the work of the back row, the lineout, Owen Farrell’s tactical kicking, the impact of Maro Itoje from the bench and Conor Murray’s game management.

The attention now shifts to the Highlanders and the Lions hope to have Sam Warburton back fit to feature in that game while they will continue to monitor Stuart Hogg and Jonathan Davies after both were forced off with head knocks. But tonight, the Lions will enjoy the moment as they got their 2017 tour off and running.

“There were some strong performances by a number of players,” Gatland said. “But the games come around pretty quickly, Highlanders on Tuesday and the Maori All Blacks next week.

“We said all along that the quality of the opposition — as long as you don’t get that many injuries and we’ve been lucky touch wood — is great preparation for us as we prepare to play the best team in the world which is the All Blacks in a few weeks’ time.”

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