‘Expecting the impossible to happen overnight’

Warren Gatland

Lions coach Warren Gatland has concern over numerous botched try-scoring opportunities against Crusaders.

Warren Gatland is rightly proud of his team’s defensive performance in shutting out Super Rugby’s most attacking side on Saturday night but it is the Lions’ potency at the other end of the field which is exercising the minds of his coaching staff and players.

The 2017 Lions have managed just two tries in three games on this tour - one against the Provincial Barbarians in the opening game, another in defeat to the Blues in game two. 

So while there were plaudits aplenty for the way the Crusaders were kept tryless in Christchurch at the weekend having previously scored an average of 37 points per game in Super Rugby it was the numerous botched try-scoring opportunities that also bore scrutiny as the Lions relied on the boot of Owen Farrell to get them over the line at AMI Stadium with four successful penalties in a 12-3 victory. 

Gatland addressed it himself post-match on Saturday when he spoke of his desire to see the Lions become more clinical in attack yet 24 hours later, after the touring party had arrived in Dunedin to begin preparations to face the Highlanders tomorrow, he appeared to take umbrage with a television journalist from New Zealand who broached the subject.

“How many have we conceded?” said Gatland, responding with a question.

“That’s a tough question on the spot...” replied the now panicking reporter, who will have been relieved when the Lions head coach returned to answering the question.

“I thought we played some excellent rugby. It’s only the third time in their history they’ve only scored three points in a match, and both of the other occasions were away from home. The team’s been together for a week. We made 13 line breaks, I didn’t see any negative rugby.

“You’ve got to hold a little back, got to be able to react, change and we played a little differently tactically from the way we did against the Blues. You’ve got to work on several things.”

The foundations do seem to be in place, morale is up and the Lions are on a roll. All that is needed now are the tries. 

“It’s something we’ll look to improve on,” scrum-half Conor Murray said, “but the fact we are making line-breaks and busting teams and we counter-attacked well off a few kick receipts is pleasing and then it’s probably the easier stuff – easier than making the line-breaks is finishing them off.

“If we weren’t making line-breaks, you’d be more worried. But it is something that is progressing. The night, the slippery ball, the slippery surface dictates the way you play a bit. I thought we managed it quite well. Hopefully, we’ll start finishing a few.”

The Lions found an ally in the tourists’ 2001 coach Graham Henry, who went on to lead the All Blacks to the 2011 World Cup. The critics, Henry said, were “expecting the impossible to happen overnight.

He continued: “These guys have never played together before, you can imagine picking an All Black team from around the world who haven’t seen each other and they always start a bit shakily, they always show a bit of rust… that’s why they’re playing Samoa.”


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