Gatland pugnacious in defeat
Disappointed, deflated but also defiant, Lions coach Warren Gatland believes the series is far from over.
First and foremost, Gatland will put the onus on his pack this week. Despite much chest beating, the 30-15 defeat at Eden Park saw the All Blacks tight five take ownership and dominate the Lions forwards.
No doubt some egos will be bruised as the tourists head to Wellington to face the Hurricanes on Tuesday, which is followed by Saturday’s second test. Reputations are on the line.
The All Blacks lineout was far from perfect but they delivered one empathic scrum and shut down the Lions’ vaunted rolling maul. What’s more, Steve Hansen’s men bossed the breakdown and found success going up the guts on several occasions.
The direct approach from the All Blacks appeared to take Gatland by surprise. So much of the Lions’ suffocating success against the Crusaders and New Zealand Maori earlier on this tour came from their forward pack’s set piece dominance, but that could not be replicated against the All Blacks.
‘‘They were very good up-front. They did a good job shutting down our line speed,’’ Gatland said. ‘‘They came very hard off nine which got them some front-foot ball and they were very aggressive at the breakdown. We need to learn from that and make sure we’re better in those areas.
‘‘It was disappointing. We’ve had some success off our driven lineout and we didn’t do that. The All Blacks sacked us pretty effectively to negate that so we’ll need to tactically look at that.
‘‘From a set piece point of view there needs to be improvement there.
‘‘They were very direct in the way they played. They didn’t throw the ball around a lot. In fairness to them they were physical up-front and you’ve got to give them credit for that. We’ve got to be much more physical against the All Blacks next week.’’
The Lions made no secret of their quest to establish their credentials as the world’s best pack and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen admitted he was often baffled at New Zealand’s perceived weaknesses in this area. Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and those who came off the bench certainly put that theory to bed.
‘‘Since Adam was a cowboy if your tight five do the job everyone else can play,’’ Hansen said. ‘‘Tonight’s test was always going to be won in the tight five and I think we won that battle but that doesn’t a guarantee we’ll win it next week. We have to front up and make sure we prepare properly. We’ve got some quality people there.
‘‘We’ve got to be extremely proud of what they did. You don’t become the best side in the world unless you have a very good tight five. I always find it amusing when people tell us they’re going to beat us up in the tight five. We’re not just a team that can play flashy rugby. We can play down and dirty rugby – in the most respectful way.’’
Gatland lamented some ‘‘soft’’ penalties and being on the wrong side of Jaco Peyper, conceding 11 infringements to the All Blacks’ six. But after scoring one stunning 80 metre breakout try to Sean O’Brien and blowing several others, Gatland refused to write off the prospect of an upset in the capital.
‘‘We created some great chances and played some lovely rugby and scored a couple of nice tries. It was hugely disappointing there were a couple of golden opportunities that we could have taken. You finish those chances and it changes the whole mindset and momentum of the game.’’
All Blacks captain Kieran Read on the rampage.