By Simon Lewis, Wellington
All Blacks flanker Jerome Kaino has insisted he had no intention going out to injure Conor Murray during last Saturday's first Test against the British and Irish Lions.
Kaino came under fire from Lions head coach Warren Gatland for putting his scrum-half in danger and risking an injury after a 10th minute incident when the New Zealand back rower dived late as Murray kicked from the back of a ruck and knocked the Ireland star off his standing leg.
Kaino did admit his dive may have been badly timed but denied it was a deliberate attempt to hurt Murray.
It is never our intent to go out and intentionally injure someone outside the laws, Kaino said on Tuesday. We play hard and we play fair. That incident was a one-off. It is never our intention to go out and try and single anyone out.
It was more timing. He is very quick getting the ball to foot, and maybe there was a bit of timing there. But what has been said out there about malice and intention to hurt anyone, that is never the case.
It wasn't my intention to hurt anyone, and to play outside the rules. I wasn't cited. I don't think I should have been.
Kaino, one of the elder statesmen of the New Zealand team at the age of 34 and in his 11th season as an All Black, winning his 78th Test cap last Saturday. He said it had been difficult to not to watch repeat showings of his dive at Murray.
I've seen it reviewing the game, and it has popped up on my Twitter feed about a million times, so it is a bit hard to avoid it.
"I guess people have their opinions on it. All I can say is it wasn't my intention to go out there and target his planted foot. It is never nice when you have things done to you outside the laws, and the way we do things, it's within the spirit of the game.
Gatland's concerns and an inference that it might be an All Blacks tactic to harass Murray were aired in public 24 hours after the 30-15 Test defeat to the world champions at Eden Park and provoked an angry rebuttal from opposite number Steve Hansen on New Zealand radio the following morning, who called the Lions boss desperate and predictable.
That led to an Auckland newspaper on Tuesday adorning its sports back page with a cartoon of Gatland drawn as a clown complete with red nose, and the headline If The Nose Fits. The paper made the same attempt at humour last summer when it published a caricature of Australia head coach Michael Cheika in the same fashion alongside the headline Send In The Clowns on the morning of a Bledisloe Cup match.
All Blacks assistant coach Ian Foster did not condemn the treatment of Gatland but said: I wouldn’t like that.
As to whether his side would employ the same pressure tactics on the Lions scrum-half in this Saturday's second Test at Wellington's Westpac Stadium, Foster replied: We definitely want to put pressure on the kickers. They put a lot of pressure on our kickers. They charged four down so they probably did a better job than us. I think to take it any further than that is just a bit silly.
Kaino said the players were staying out of the ongoing verbal battle between Hansen and Gatland.
"We don't really focus too much on what the coaches say between each other. Our focus for our team is how we can get better for next weekend and get the win. Whatever is said out there in the media world doesn't really affect us too much, and it shouldn't.
He also vowed to be more cautious regarding Lions box kicks, joking when asked if he personally would do the same thing to Murray: Well, obviously not, because it would probably go from my Twitter feed to my Instagram feed.