The Lions open their three-game series with the world champions on Saturday at Eden Park, Auckland, and head coach Gatland will use the customary eve of Test access to match referees to ask South Africa’s Jaco Peyper to clamp down on what he perceives as interference on his side’s kick chasers.
Peyper took charge of last Saturday’s tour match against the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua and could be heard regularly interacting with assistant referees Jerome Garces and Romain Poite, both of whom will be holding the whistle for the second and third Tests respectively, over the New Zealanders’ blocking of Lions runners.
“The frustrating thing for us is the amount of blocking that’s going on, the off-the-ball stuff, it makes it difficult to complete attacking opportunities and situations because there is so much happening off the ball in terms of holding players or subtly holding players,” Gatland said yesterday after the Lions travelled from Rotorua to his hometown of Hamilton, where the tourists will face the Chiefs on Tuesday.
“We’ve raised it with the ref already. If you listen to the ref’s mic (on Saturday) they were talking about it constantly through the game. They gave a couple of penalties in the game for blocking. It’s one of the hardest things to pick up because it tends to happen quite a long way off the ball.
“In fairness to the assistant referees they did raise it on a number of occasions. And sometimes it was put through to the TMO who said it didn’t have a material effect and told the ref to talk to the players about it.
“We’ll keep raising it. Because it was picked up on a couple of occasions on Saturday they stopped doing it as much.
“That made it a lot easier for us to get up in the air and to compete. In a couple of games, we haven’t been able to get up in the air because there has been that interference.”
Gatland believes the repeated interference by opponents on this New Zealand tour has cost his players numerous try-scoring opportunities.
“Absolutely. When you go back and look at the tapes and look at all the stuff off the ball, where someone’s run a line or stopped someone getting through, some of it is very subtle. That’s made it difficult.
“It’s part of the game in New Zealand, all New Zealand teams at the moment are doing it. Some of the referees are picking them up for that. We’ve just got to handle that and just hope the refs, the assistants and the TMOs pick up what’s going on.
“It’s just part of the game at the moment. A few years ago people weren’t quite so subtle. They’re very very subtle now.”
Asked if he thought the same illegal tactics were used in the Northern Hemisphere, Gatland replied: “I don’t think it happens to the same extent but I know how difficult it is to pick up for referees because it tends to happen away from the ball. Someone just changes the line and blocks.
“We (video) clipped a lot of the situations. We have just got to be aware of it.
“Hopefully the officials are aware of it. They were aware of it at the weekend because they spoke about it a lot and they picked it up on a couple of occasions where we ended up with penalties and then a couple of other occasions they spoke about watching certain situations in terms of off the ball stuff.
“I am happy enough that if the referees are aware of it and they pick up teams for that, that would be good. If you look back the very first kick-off in Chicago with Ireland-All Blacks, the All Blacks were penalised for interference and blocking and stuff. All I am asking is the officials are aware of it and look at it and they did that last night so I was happy with it.”
Gatland was speaking to Irish and British journalists two days after claiming opposite number Steve Hansen, the All Blacks head coach, was busy trying to rile the Lions because he was worried about them.
“I am surprised by Steve Hansen, who is normally pretty calm and 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,” the Lions boss said after beating the Maori All Blacks 32-10.