Published: Sun, June 11, 2017
Sports | By Nelson Rowe

Gatland, and others, in contention for ABs job in 2020 - Tew

Gatland, and others, in contention for ABs job in 2020 - Tew

Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland praised his side's defence after they overcame the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.

The home support, one sensed, had come to see the in-form Super Rugby side, with nine All Blacks in their squad, firmly put the Lions in their place, and in doing so deliver a further blow to the tourists' confidence ahead of the Test series.

Gatland had been left fuming at the unwelcome outside critiques that only increased after Wednesday's 22-16 loss to the Blues - but used victory over the Crusaders as a stick with which to beat his detractors.

He added: "The Lions is the highlight of anyone's career and to go on tour and not feature in the first two games is annoying".

"And that's been challenging".

"Behind closed doors we are trying to keep a few things back to prepare for and ensure we are right for the tests, particularly that first test", Gatland said.

"And I think that was evident in 2013 as well, even though at the same stage we'd won two out of two the performances were not what we'd hoped for".

Sexton and Farrell combined well at 10 and 12 and that is now a genuine option for boss Gatland moving forward, despite the Lions coach previously admitting he viewed England's premier playmaker as a fly-half.

"I have been hammered by the New Zealand media, so it has been a targeted campaign against me personally".

"And sometimes that brings out the best in me as a competitor in sport".

That tour firmly established North as one of the most risky wingers in world rugby and the Lions will be hoping that he can somehow re-establish that kind of form for Saturday's clash with the Crusaders and the subsequent matches against the All Blacks.

The Crusaders were unbeaten in 2017 and were viewed by many as the unofficial fourth test.

Several Lions gave their Test selection hopes a boost, most notably Farrell and Irish halfback Connor Murray, whose towering box kicks created constant problems.

"The front row [including Jack McGrath] coming off the bench were excellent. we lost two of our backs in the first half - Stuart Hogg and Jonathan Davies - and we had to react to that".

The Lions face the Maori on June 17, a clash in which Gatland has already admitted he could well field a starting line-up that would closely resemble his Test XV. The first 15 minutes would follow suit, with both teams making errors in tricky conditions with the ball proving slippery and a number of players losing their feet beneath them.

'And they'll just go through the protocols. "It was always about the result, the performance was pleasing in terms of they've been averaging five tries a game and defensively we were outstanding".

"For that to happen, he's caught Conor Murray's elbow, that was a bit unlucky in that situation".

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