The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Gatland slams Kiwi dirty tricks
Lions joy, but coach reveals anger at ‘personal attacks’
WARREN GATLAND claimed he has come under attack from a ‘personal’ and ‘targeted’ campaign in New Zealand aimed at undermining the Lions series.
Over the course of the past week, Gatland’s face has been splashed across national newspapers alongside articles describing him as a ‘journeyman’ who offers ‘nothing special’ as a coach.
Local bookmakers promoted odds on the Lions losing every remaining match of the tour, but yesterday’s victory over the Crusaders gave the Kiwi a platform to hit back at his critics.
‘A lot of people have written us off in the last week and said the tour was over,’ said Gatland. ‘I even heard someone say it was more embarrassing than 2005.
‘I have been hammered by the New Zealand media as well so it has been a targeted campaign against me personally. That is part of coaching at the highest level and we know you have got to be able to handle those sorts of things. It is [that] sort of pressure and sometimes that brings out the best in me as a competitor.
‘It has been a really tough week. There has been a lot of criticism and that has been challenging for us. We have had to stay strong within the group. The goal was the Test matches and to keep improving towards that. I hope we didn’t disappoint too many people with the result.’
The vitriol spread to social media, with players logging out of their accounts following the midweek defeat by the Blues.
It created a siege mentality in the camp and prop Mako Vunipola admitted that, from a player’s point of view, the squad have tried to block out the stinging criticism. ‘We know that things were being said about us, but we were frustrated TURN TO PAGE 12
with the result on Wednesday as well,’ Vunipola (right) said.
‘It’s so easy for everyone to say stuff or have an opinion about you. We as players have to have thick skins and we are all experienced at dealing with that.’
The tourists have now earned a reprieve until Tuesday’s game against the Highlanders.
The squad were due to fly south to Dunedin this morning and for Gatland, although Stuart Hogg and Jonathan Davies will miss out with concussion, the return of Sam Warburton will provide a boost.
‘Sam needs some game time so we’ll probably give him a run,’ said Gatland.
‘Stuart has got quite a nasty bruise under his eye and a gash under the ear. He’s just caught Conor Murray’s elbow. Both he and Jonathan Davies failed the HIAs [head injury assessments] so we’ll see how they are for the Maori. ‘The impact of the guys coming off the bench gave us energy and momentum.’ Gatland has ordered his players to improve their finishing — having relied on the boot of Owen Farrell at the AMI Stadium — but said victory will help get his side back on track. ‘It’s almost like a club team coming together in pre-season,’ he added.
‘You get a couple of pre-season games under your belt, spend time in training and you get better.
‘This team has been outstanding in training. I knew there was going to be a better performance than against the Crusaders because they had more time together.
‘There is lots to work on but the result was pretty important.’