The Roar
The Roar


Gatland makes a point but needs his team to make many more

Warren Gatland has shifted his coaching philosophy. (AAP Image/David Rowland)
Roar Guru
8th June, 2017
1376 Reads

Poor old Warren Gatland. Just can’t take a trick can he?

After his Lions, the best of Britain and Ireland, were undone by the worst of the five Kiwi Super teams on Wednesday night, he suggested there’s not much “difference between some of the Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks”.

The comment has since been pilloried all over the shaky Isles, from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen down.

Where others took to meat cleavers to hack the utterance to shreds, the former meat inspector used a boning knife to ever so deftly fillet out its veracity.

“I think he was probably trying to take a bit of humour having struggled a little bit in the press conference before that I suppose,” Hansen said yesterday when quizzed on the call.

“I don’t think there is any comparison between Test rugby and Super Rugby but he’s probably just trying to make a light comment. I don’t really know… (cue trademark look of feigned bemusement).” 

No doubt Gats did mean it as a throwaway line to illustrate his preceding statement that there’s “so much strength in depth in this country…”

Perhaps his intent was to add a touch of levity in the crushing moments following victory being so brilliantly snatched from his team at Eden Park.


Still, being a former All Black, he should know as well as anyone that Kiwis don’t much do throwaway lines where the All Blacks are concerned. Least of all from coaches of touring international teams.

Especially one as vaunted and anticipated as the Lions.

Warren Gatland British and Irish Lions Rugby Union 2017

(AAP Image/David Rowland)

Kiwis (speaking from the perspective of one) are, for the most part, a pretty laid back bunch who tend to come over all precious and uptight with regards referencing their sacred All Blacks. They like hearing words like “special”, uttered in near reverential tones, when talk turns to the men in black in the lead up to a big series.

Lumping them in the same breath as mere Super teams was never going to go down well.

However, when you look at the Lions’ next fixture against the all-conquering Crusaders tomorrow, Gatland’s call is utterly valid.

The Crusaders will front up with seven of its match-day 23 named in the All Blacks squad to take on the Lions in the Test series. 
It would have been ten had Kieran Read, Scott Barrett and Ryan Crotty not been ruled out of the red and blacks with injury.


Then there are recent All Blacks: Matt Todd, who’s on standby for the Lions Tests – as is his Crusaders teammate Jack Goodhue – and Seta Tamanivalu, meaning the Lions will be up against nine All Blacks in Christchurch tomorrow.

And of the five non-All Blacks in the Crusaders backline, four of them – Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge and Richie Mo’unga – have, between them, played the biggest attacking part in their team’s record-breaking unbeaten Super run this year.

Up front, the tourists will come up against six All Blacks in the starting Crusaders pack, including all of the tight five plus Wyatt Crockett on the bench.

Gatland’s suggestion of a negligible difference between the Super teams and All Blacks certainly rings truer against the Crusaders than anyone else.

Thankfully, he’s named a 23 that looks much closer to the one that will run out against the All Blacks in a fortnight than either of the squads in the two opening fixtures.

Despite its lack of any real ability to penetrate out wide and the fact they lost, it was a much improved Lions performance against the Blues compared to the opening game. 

As the match wore on they ground out growing periods of ascendency up front, especially in the scrum which reached a crescendo in the 70th minute when the Lions marched the Blues’ pack back from whence they came against the feed to force a penalty for their short-lived one-point lead.

James Haskell British and Irish Lions Rugby Union 2017

(AAP Image/David Rowland)


Apart from the debacle in the last moments, the Lions’ lineout was much more accurate than that of the Blues and drives from it more effective.

 Their line speed (Lion speed?) was ferocious throughout, although dealt with by a clever change of tactics by the Blues in the second half.

But despite hogging territory and possession and having the ambition to fling it around, the Lions looked largely bereft of the ability to conjure try-scoring opportunities out wide.

In fact, they looked their most comfortable in the ten minutes midway through the second half when reduced to 14 men after winger Liam Williams was binned for his second clumsy aerial assault on Matt Duffie.

Suddenly going wide was no longer an option and the forwards could shove it up the jumper and take it up the guts with impunity, which they did with mostly good gains, winning the period 3-0.

Warrenball shorn of its pretentions to be anything else.

The reality, though, is that they are going to have to find points from somewhere, and plenty of them to counter the immense breakout ability of each of their upcoming opposition.

Do the likes of Stuart Hogg, George North, Ben Te’o, Owen Farrell and Conor Murray hold the key to unlocking those points against a rampant Crusaders team?


The good news is we only have to wait until tomorrow to find out.