British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has given the strongest indication yet he will overhaul the forward pack found wanting in last week’s first Test loss to the All Blacks.
As he mulls options for the second Test in Wellington on Saturday, Gatland was full of praise for the performance of locks Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson in a 31-31 draw with the Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
Gatland was impressed with Henderson’s commitment, even though the Irishman cost the Lions dearly when his yellow card let the Hurricanes back into the match.
He also liked the look of Lawes, bringing him off in the 53rd minute, probably to keep him fresh for the Test.
“I thought (Lawes) played really well and Iain Henderson played exceptionally well also, in terms of carrying and getting behind,” Gatland said.
“Courtney Lawes was strong in the lineout and carried and defended particularly well.”
Lawes could offer a potent combination with fellow Englishman Maro Itoje, who is regarded as a certain starter after making an immediate impact when he came off the bench in the first Test.
Lawes said he was ready to match the physicality of the All Blacks, whose locks Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock were outstanding in the 30-15 Test series opener.
“I don’t think you get to this level without having a certain level of physicality. That is an area of my game that is up there I suppose,” he said.
“It’s a final this weekend. There’s no second chance for us and we need to front up.”
– Happy clown –
Meanwhile, Gatland shrugged off what he said was a personal campaign against him by local media, including a caricature depicting him as a clown in the New Zealand Herald.
Gatland said he did not care about those who attempted to target him.
“I hope it was a happy clown, that’s all,” he joked.
“I’d like to think as a Kiwi that some things about me would be more positive from some media, but that hasn’t happened.
“One or two people have had a personal campaign against me but it’s water off a duck’s back. I couldn’t give a toss.”
The Wales coach revealed an unusual reason for not using his bench against the Hurricanes as his starting XV faded late in a furiously paced match.
Gatland said he had faced so much criticism for calling up six players as late replacements — four from Wales and two from Scotland — that he decided to use them only as a last resort.
“So much was made of devaluing the jersey that we decided we would try and get through the game with as many of our starting XV staying on as could,” he said.
“You understand people’s views, so we made the collective decision that they would be just head injury assessment (concussion) or injury replacements.” – Agence France-Presse