Warren Gatland held a pretty spectacular press conference in the wake of the Lions’ victory over the Maori All Blacks. But it wasn’t just the game on the agenda as the coach came out swinging at his critics, Steve Hansen and England chief Eddie Jones.
Here’s the transcript of what was said.
Did you send a message to the All Blacks?
It’s been all about ourselves and improving from game to game. Every match is up against quality opposition and we have been learning from those experiences and benefiting from the opposition. It was another step up tonight. It was a really good performance. In terms of the All Blacks, we’ll start thinking about them a little bit more this week.
What have you made of Steve Hansen’s comments about your squad in the past week?
I’m a little bit surprised by Steve Hansen, who is normally pretty calm. He has been doing a lot of press conferences and I can only take that as a sign of respect in that he is a little bit worried.
They arranged a pretty quick game against Samoa and if you saw the first 20-30 minutes, they needed that. Obviously, they were outstanding in the second half.
It’s unlike Steve and maybe he is worried by potentially how good this team can be. We know we have got a big step up to play the All Blacks but all I can say is that this could be a great series with fantastic rugby.
Everyone could get excited. Wherever we have been in New Zealand, the welcome has been brilliant. I can’t speak more highly of that.
The off-field stuff, similar to the stuff that people have been saying, puts a bit of a dampener on the tour. But that’s professional sport, we’ve got to deal with that and move on.
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.
Is the camp now split? Was this performance in response to that?
Who’s saying that?
I thought I just spoke about Steve Hansen then. There is no way we are divided into two. We’ve got a big game against the Chiefs on Tuesday night. I look back on 2013 and we made nine different selections between the first and third Test so the players who may not be involved in the first Test have to stay alive, you have to stay in it because you may not get a chance in the second or third Test.
We’ve said all along that it’s about preparing and learning from the games warming up but it’s all about the Test series, it’s about winning the Test series and that’s what we need to do.
I said if we drop a couple of games along the way then we can benefit from that if we learn from the experience. Everyone’s got to be excited for what can be a great Test series.
We’ve been written off, and apart from people saying that’s put a split in us, it’s brought us closer together as a group. The harmony and the singing in the changing rooms from the guys who weren’t involved tonight 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.
Walk us through what you were able to do so successfully in the second half?
We looked to do a few things at half time. There were a couple of stupid penalties in the first half that were costly and to only give away one penalty in the second half, I thought our game management was excellent in the second half.
We probably played a little bit too much between the 10s in the first half when the conditions weren’t right. And it’s hard to get forward momentum early on in the game, because everyone’s pumped up and fresh but in the second half we squeezed the life out of them.
We did that up front and we got in behind them and created some opportunities so it was a pretty clinical performance. In the night games you have to play to the conditions.
It was slippery out there and I thought defensively, when you look at the attacking quality in their backline, and speaking to the players afterwards, they didn’t feel under pressure at all and didn’t feel like the Maori were able to stretch them at all and their one try was from a speculative kick that got a lucky bounce.
We can be pretty proud of that performance but we know to play the All Blacks and beat the All Blacks we need to take another step up and hopefully we’ll see that next week.
What is your take on the criticism from the likes of Sir Ian McGeechan about calling up the new Welsh and Scottish players?
Look, I understand the concerns and we did that similarly in 2013 in terms of some of the call-ups. The thing is we could have made some of those decisions earlier last week but we waited until after the Highlanders game and we sat down as a coaching group and looked at the players potentially coming in and players that we need to sit on the bench as cover.
I just don’t think you’re able to back-up and try to prepare for Tuesday and then try and turn around and win the game on Saturday. 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, and if we hadn’t have done that then we could have easily lost the series.
Does it devalue the shirt?
Does it devalue the shirt? You’re only a Lion when you get on the field and there’s a few of those players that were probably unlucky not to potentially be in contention in the first place. We’ve picked up a couple of injuries.
In terms of devaluing the shirt, I can see some people’s point on that but we’re here to win a Test series and it’s those guys covering from Auckland, not travelling halfway around the world.
We found it difficult the first 10 days when we were here in terms of jetlag and tiredness and stuff. The players that came in from Auckland last night and from Australia will be able to fit quickly into that time zone.
This is something we had planned from the start and informed the coaches and this is what we were looking to do. I understand it is difficult when you are so far away and when you bring them in. These guys will be with us for a week and they are for bench cover and they understand that’s the way it is. My job is to win a Test series and I will do whatever it takes to do that.
Was this a step forward from the Crusaders match?
I think we built on the Crusaders performance tonight in terms of the scrummaging, which was very solid. We’ve had to adapt to the southern hemisphere play in the scrummage and we’ve been working on that and we had been working on that before at the start of the tour. Lineout-wise again we were good and defensively strong.
We were much better in the air as well in terms of the control of the aerial game as well.
It does help when your goal-kicker kicks seven out of seven or eight out of eight or whatever it was; we’re very, very pleased with that.
Again, the impact of the bench gave us some momentum as well.
Guys coming off the bench had some strong displays too.
You struggled with jet lag, are you angry that the England coach is miles away and telling you to call his lads up?
Oh, I’ll let Eddie do his own talking. He can do plenty of it so…. we made the decision that we think is the best decision from us.
I understand Eddie’s concern, people’s concern – his point, I suppose – but I just understand how difficult it is to do that and travel from Argentina; it’s not as if you’re in Buenos Aires, you’ve got to get here and get around the world and acclimatise.
You use past experiences for that. Christian Wade came in last time (from Argentina) the day before and he sat on the bench, came on and it was obvious that the travel impacted his ability to play.
For us, the time-frame was having a look to see how the Highlanders game went; what injuries we would have and how we would cope with that and then looking to make the right decision for us.
What’s the latest on Farrell and Warburton?
Sam is fine and we wanted him to get some game time.
We are hopeful that Owen will be okay as well. It was precautionary leaving them out.
At a pinch he probably could have played tonight, but the ground is quite heavy and a number of players at half time had tight hamstrings, groins and calfs. We are trying to manage them and for us it was important that we didn’t take the risk and put him out there.