Gatland says All Blacks coach Hansen 'worried' as Lions loom


Rotorua (New Zealand) (AFP)

A confident British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland celebrated the convincing win over the Maori All Blacks by claiming it was Steve Hansen who was "worried" a week before the first Test.

All Blacks coach Hansen has been firing barbs at Gatland, accusing him of having only one style of play, claiming inside knowledge of the Lions reinforcements and saying New Zealand's thumping 78-0 over Samoa on Friday was "just the start".

After biting his tongue for a week, Gatland fired back after the Lions overcame early tour difficulties to look sharp and well-drilled as they comprehensively outplayed the Maori All Blacks 32-10 in Rotorua on Saturday.

"He is a little bit more worried than he normally is, saying these comments about us, things he knows about or doesn’t know about, that is normally a sign of a man that is a little bit worried," Gatland said of Hansen.

"It's unlike Steve and maybe he is worried by potentially how good this team can be."

The Kiwi-born, Wales coach also defended the harmony in the Lions bulging squad, dismissing Hansen's allegation that they had split into a likely Test line-up and the rest.

"There is no way we are divided into two," he said.

"The harmony, and the boys singing in the changing rooms from the guys who weren’t involved (against Maori All Blacks) and what it means to them in terms of the whole squad, we're very, very close.

"If Steve Hansen knows what’s going on from outside, then he’s a much better man than I am."

Gatland has dismissed mid-week losses to the Auckland Blues and Otago Highlanders as part of a learning process with winning the Test series the goal starting with the first Test in Auckland next Saturday.

He also defended calling in six extra players from the Wales and Scotland squads, who are already in the southern hemisphere, so he could have two squads of 23 and Test players would not be required for midweek duty.

He said it was similar to his successful preparation for the first Test against Australia when the Lions last toured four years ago.

"Like I said, it’s all about us doing that for the best opportunity for the first Test. We did that in 2013 and I have no doubt it’s one of the reasons why we won the first Test because we gave the Test team a chance to win the Test."

England coach Eddie Jones, who is in Argentina with his side, had appealed to Gatland to choose reinforcements on "merit rather than geographical proximity".

Gatland said he understood why his decision to add Wales quartet Gareth Davies, Kristian Dacey, Cory Hill and Tomas Francis along with Scotland's Allan Dell and Finn Russell had proved unpopular.

"I understand the concerns. Does it devalue the shirt? I can see some people's point on that, but we're here to win a Test series," Gatland said.