Gat­land wants Lions to get off to a win­ning start

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

WIN. That’s all Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions coach War­ren Gat­land said he ex­pected from his side in the tour-open­ing clash against the New Zealand Provin­cial Bar­bar­ians to­day.

That may be Gat­land’s bot­tom line but much more will be ex­pected of a vastly ex­pe­ri­enced squad for the Whangarei tour match against a team made up of play­ers from the host coun­try’s semi-pro­fes­sional provin­cial com­pe­ti­tion.

Pun­dits in rugby-mad New Zealand, never afraid to play their part in boost­ing the national cause, have sug­gested that any­thing less than a 30-point dif­fer­en­tial should be con­sid­ered a loss for the tourists.

Most im­por­tantly, the Lions need to show they have come to New Zealand with an at­ti­tude that will carry them through matches against five Su­per Rugby teams, the Maori All Blacks and three tests against the world cham­pi­ons.

De­spite hav­ing world class goal­kick­ers Johnny Sex­ton and Owen Far­rell in the match­day squad, Gat­land knows the Lions will need to score points in in­cre­ments of more than three to beat the All Blacks.

In short, they need to score tries, prob­a­bly a lot of them, and they will not get a bet­ter chance to show they can than against the Bar­bar­ians.

“It’s im­por­tant we get the tour off to a good start,” Gat­land

told Bri­tish me­dia. “There’s no hid­ing from that fact, and I think the play­ers are well aware of that.

“I said to them ‘if we’ve got a four-on-two on our goal line then you’ve got to move the ball and do some­thing. I don’t want you to play by num­bers, I want you to play what is in front of you’.”

As an as­sis­tant on the 2009 tour of South Africa be­fore get­ting the top job four years later in Aus­tralia, Gat­land is well aware of the alchemy Lions coaches have to prac­tice in tour matches to get their best sides out for the tests.

He needs to jug­gle the ex­pec­ta­tions of 41 highly com­pet­i­tive in­di­vid­u­als all vy­ing for a test jersey, while gelling com­bi­na­tions and sort­ing out who is best to im­ple­ment the plan to beat the All Blacks.

Gat­land has said ev­ery­one in the squad will get the op­por­tu­nity to stake their claim be­fore his first choice team is pen­cilled in for their match against the Maori All Blacks, a week be­fore the open­ing test at Eden Park on June 24.

“It’s about giv­ing ev­ery­one an op­por­tu­nity, and keep­ing har­mony in the squad, that’s para­mount for these guys at the mo­ment,” Gat­land said.

“I think it’s im­por­tant these guys are putting them­selves in the shop win­dow. They’ve got a chance to prove them­selves and with a lit­tle bit of luck they’re in con­tention for the tests.”

His se­lec­tion for the Bar­bar­ians game was ul­ti­mately forced upon him due to the lim­ited build-up the team had to­gether, with the side cho­sen from the play­ers who were able to at­tend the train­ing camp in Dublin.

That, how­ever, had played into the Lions hands ac­cord­ing to ex­pe­ri­enced Wales lock Alun Wyn Jones.

“I think we have quite a di­verse se­lec­tion and the gelling to­gether is the fo­cus for us in this game,” he said.

“We have got a good group of lads who are start­ing to bond re­ally well off the pitch and that’s mas­sive.

“We haven’t played any rugby yet but that will be the true test of where we are.” – Reuters

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