Gatland accuses All Blacks fans of being arrogant
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland began the mind games early ahead of next year’s tour of New Zealand by accusing the world champions’ fans of being arrogant. The 53-yearold New Zealander-who is renowned for being a master at psychological warfaresaid the fans berating of Australian flyhalf Quade Cooper, also a Kiwi, in a Rugby Championship match last month was embarrassing. “As a Kiwi, I was embarrassed,” said Gatland, who made the remarks shortly after he told reporters he didn’t want his words twisted and published accordingly as he would then stop talking to the media. “There was still a large portion of the crowd booing (Australia’s) Quade Cooper. Get over it.”
Cooper has never been forgiven by the All Blacks fans for pushing their icon Richie McCaw in a match six years ago and he exacerbated his image as a villain when he caught the same player with his knee in 2011. Gatland, who guided the Lions to a 2-1 series win over Australia in 2013, also took a dim view of the New Zealand newspaper that put a made up photo of Wallabies coach Michael Cheika adorned with a clown’s nose and the headline ‘Send in the clowns’ on the morning of the match. Both Cheika and captain Stephen Moore lambasted the paper for a lack of respect, a view widely held globally.
“You can be proud but you’ve still got to show humility and respect,” he said. “In the past New Zealanders have prided ourselves on that and been humble about the success of the rugby team.
“It was the first time that I’ve sat there and thought, ‘We’re better than this’. “I don’t think the All Blacks are doing that.”
Gatland, who has stood down from his role as head coach of Wales while he prepares for the Lions tour, is bidding to become just the second coach, after Welshman Carwyn James in 1971, to steer the Lions to a series win over the All Blacks.
The former top class hooker, who never won a cap for the All Blacks as he played second fiddle to the legendary Sean Fitzpatrick, says the world champions have raised their game even since beating Australia in last year’s World Cup final.
However, the former Wasps and Ireland handler says he has taken heart from the way Wales performed in a three Test series earlier this year in New Zealand. “From a Welsh perspective, we have shown that we can compete for 60 minutes and look OK,” said Gatland.
“We have often commented if we get four or five injuries in Wales we start to struggle a little in terms of the back-up. “The beauty and the great thing about the Lions is the depth that you have got to choose from.
“That’s what’s exciting about it, being able to pick not just a XV, but a 23 and a good back-up as well to cope with injuries but also hopefully have the armoury on the pitch and the bench to compete with them.” Gatland, who could also choose another Kiwi as skipper in England’s captain Dylan Hartley, will hope his squad stays fit and healthy as they face a demanding tour on all fronts.
The three-Test series against the All Blacks will be the culmination of a 10-fixture tour that includes five games against Super Rugby opposition and a clash with the Maoris.
Adding to his problems is a fixture pile-up domestically. The Lions’ first match in New Zealand takes place early in June, just a week after the English Premiership and Celtic League finals.
With many potential squad members set to be involved in those matches, the Lions coach will have reduced preparation time with key players prior to the Tests. — AFP