The day Gat - and one-eyed Ki­wis - knew this was a bat­tle for the ages

June 10: Cru­saders 3, The Li­ons 12

Daily Mirror - - SPORT - ALEX SPINK

THE earth shook be­neath the feet of the Li­ons the night the seeds of their heroic Test cam­paign were sown.

It was the sec­ond Satur­day on tour and the first time War­ren Gat­land’s squad flexed their mus­cles. A team mocked for its lame, jet-lagged open­ing ef­fort and then beaten on its sec­ond out­ing, fi­nally bared its teeth.

Eight earth­quakes reg­is­tered that day in Christchurch, the largest 4.2 on the Richter scale. But the real shock was felt by those who had dis­missed the Li­ons as no-hop­ers.

Beat­ing the best fran­chise team in the south­ern hemi­sphere sent out a pow­er­ful mes­sage, par­tic­u­larly as the freescor­ing Cru­saders were de­nied a sin­gle try.

There and then War­ren Gat­land iden­ti­fied the core of his Test team. The for­ward pack that day would start the se­ries in Auck­land a fort­night later, so too the mid­field and half­backs.

More than that the Li­ons found a tem­plate for win­ning rugby in New Zealand and a be­lief that, against all odds, suc­cess was achiev­able.

They even found time to try out Johnny Sex­ton and Owen Far­rell in mid­field to­gether. And so a squad greeted on ar­rival by a poll say­ing 78 per cent of Ki­wis could not name one of them, forced New Zealand to take them se­ri­ously.

Yes, they blew mid­week win­ning po­si­tions against the Blues, High­landers and Hur­ri­canes. But that helped the process of sep­a­rat­ing the wheat from the chaff.

When the Satur­day team wal­loped the Maori All Blacks seven days be­fore the First Test, only the oneeyed New Zealand Her­ald news­pa­per failed to see what was head­ing the way of the All Blacks.

If it did not show it­self in that Eden Park opener, where the All Blacks’ as­ton­ish­ing in­ten­sity at the break­down made them de­served win­ners, it was not long in com­ing.

Res­cu­ing a share of the se­ries from one-nil down against the back-to-back world cham­pi­ons amounted to a vic­tory for Gat­land, por­trayed lo­cally as a clown but ac­tu­ally the com­plete op­po­site.

He saw the merit in field­ing play­mak­ers Sex­ton and Far­rell to­gether, even though it meant rel­e­gat­ing the ex­cel­lent Ben Te’o to the bench.

He was not afraid to leave Sam Warburton out of the opener, sens­ing his cap­tain’s time would come. He re­sisted de­mands Alun Wyn Jones lose his place af­ter toil­ing in the opener.

And then, across the se­ries, showed faith in the likes of Te’o, Jamie Ge­orge and Kyle Sinck­ler, yet to con­vince Ed­die Jones they de­serve Eng­land starts.

Only over the so-called Ge­og­ra­phy Six did Gat­land lose his run-up, pick­ing play­ers on con­ve­nience rather than merit, then not hav­ing the courage to use them.

It was an iso­lated faux pas, one that won’t be for­got­ten given the fierce de­bate it gen­er­ated over “de­valu­ing” the jersey.

But as the squad fly home he is so much in credit that, he can live with that.

Be­fore the se­ries was even un­der way Gat­land was ridiculed by coun­ter­part Steve Hansen for hav­ing noth­ing up his sleeve but his arm. Hansen could not have been more wrong. It was his team that ended up not play­ing enough rugby.

Gat­land’s did just fine.

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