WESTPAC STADIUM, Wellington — After a week in which Warren Gatland was portrayed as a clown, the Lions coach said criticism levelled in his and the team’s direction has galvanised the group as he assessed the magnitude of the British & Irish Lions’ victory over the All Blacks.
The Lions forced a series decider in Auckland as they beat a 14-man All Blacks side 24-21 in Wellington, where the forward pack met Gatland’s challenge to improve their physicality. But what pleased the Lions coach the most was the feeling within the group, the squad’s unity.
The second Test between the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks had it all. There was controversy, clinical finishing and ill-discipline. We breakdown the crucial moments in the Lions 24-21 win.
The British & Irish Lions face a gruelling 10-game tour of New Zealand, including three Tests against the All Blacks. ESPN will be there with full, up-to-date coverage every step of the way.
They have navigated a turbulent week in which Gatland was denigrated in this part of the world for highlighting what he deemed to be rough treatment of his scrum-half Conor Murray last weekend. The negative press has been used as motivation, however.
“The last couple of weeks in terms of the criticism and personal attacks has been a little bit tough to take, not so much for myself, more for family members,” Gatland said.
“Ironically, the Kiwi public are probably the fairest people you will ever come across.
“They have no idea how much it has galvanised us a group in terms of the good luck messages we have received from Kiwis, people shaking your hands and saying well done, ex-All Blacks contacting us saying I hope you do well and that some of the personal stuff in the press has been over the top.
“There is a huge proportion of Lions fans and Kiwis wanting us to do well and saying the criticism has been unfair. So ironically, it’s actually been a huge positive.
“So whoever’s been doing it, keep doing it because it’s not working and it’s actually worked for us.”
Lions players celebrate after their win over the All Blacks. MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images
Gatland and the team will be keeping a lid on any celebrations though with the focus already switching to next Saturday’s series decider in Auckland.
The Lions now head to Queenstown to regroup after a bruising second Test — Gatland joked they are going there for skiing and recreation — as they prepare for the last match of the tour and a chance of joining the 1971 Lions as the second touring party from the four Home Nations to win a series on New Zealand soil.
“I think it’s going to be pretty brutal next weekend,” was Gatland’s prediction and he is wary of an All Blacks backlash.
“We know historically when New Zealand teams lose they respond and there’s no better example than what happened in Chicago last year and then in Dublin in the following game.
“We know we are going to be in for an almighty battle in Eden Park next week. But we have come out of tonight with some belief and confidence. We kept the All Blacks try-less, I don’t know the last time that happened.
“In the first two Test matches, they haven’t really stretched us from an attacking perspective. We are the ones who have played some pretty positive rugby. We improved in certain areas and will look to improve in others. Hopefully it will be one hell of a Test match in Eden Park next week.”
www.espn.co.uk – RUGBY