By Simon Lewis, Wellington
All Blacks boss Steve Hansen has reacted furiously to Warren Gatland's “desperate” and “predictable” suggestion his players have deliberately tried to injure Lions scrum-half Conor Murray.
Murray was knocked off his standing foot by New Zealand flanker Jerome Kaino after box-kicking from the base of a ruck in the early stages of Saturday's 30-15 first Test defeat for the Lions at Eden Park, a repeat of the treatment the Munster star was given by Glasgow forwards during the season which led the player to go public with his dissatisfaction.
Having arrived in Wellington for this Saturday's second Test and with the Lions needing a win to take the series to a third and deciding contest on July 8 back in Auckland, Gatland suggested that the dive was not an attempt to charge down the kick but a deliberate aim at Murray's non-kicking leg and was “a little bit dangerous”.
“Conor has had a bit of treatment like that previously. It’s a little bit tough. When you see someone dive at someone’s leg, you feel for the player,” Gatland said on Sunday.
“It’s a little bit concerning that they are not actually trying to charge the kick down because they are nowhere near it. They are actually diving blindly and hitting someone’s leg.
“For me, it’s just about protecting the players and making sure they are safe. That’s my biggest concern. I will just be asking politely that the officials look at that and make sure they protect him.”
Hours later, on Monday morning New Zealand time, after Gatland's words were reported in the New Zealand media, Hansen made an appearance on Sport Radio NZ and let fly.
"It's predictable coming from Gatland, two weeks ago we cheated in the scrums, last week it was blocking, now we're saying this," Hansen said.
"It's really, really disappointing to hear what he's implying, that we are intentionally going out to injure somebody. That is not the case, we've never been like that, and as a New Zealander I expect him to know the New Zealand psyche. It's not about intentionally trying to hurt anyone, it's about playing hard and fair.
"Wasn't it a great Test...both sets of players earned the respect of each other in a physical contest. At the time no one was complaining about anything being off key. The fans who watched it loved it, so it's really, really disappointing to hear him say that...to take away not only the gloss of the Test match but from his own team's performance as well."
When asked by radio host Martin Devlin what he believed had motivated Gatland's comments, Hansen replied: "I don't know, I guess he might be a bit desperate or something. I don't know why he would be saying it.
"He's implying that we're trying to hurt the guy. Rugby is about playing within the laws. In this case we're trying to charge the kick down and or tackle him. Both those things are legal - that's what the game is built around.
"Just because he (Murray) is one of their key players, he doesn't have the right to go around the park without being charged down or tackled. After such a great Test match, on Monday (Gatland) comes out and is saying something like that."