Hansen: B&I Lions 'clutching at straws'

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 05:33

REACTION: British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland is "clutching at straws" by using Ireland's upset win over the All Blacks as motivation, his opposite number Steve Hansen said Thursday.

Unveiling his 41-man touring squad in London, Gatland said his players took confidence from Ireland's 40-29 victory in Chicago last November, which showed the world champions were "fallible... like everyone else".

Gatland has selected several players from that match and England's 38-21 win over the All Blacks in 2012 for the upcoming tour to New Zealand.

He has also Andy Farrell as defence coach, who was part of the backroom staff both times the New Zealanders were defeated.

But Hansen warned his fellow Kiwi Gatland not to read too much into the Ireland result, pointing out the All Blacks comfortably won the return fixture 21-9 in Dublin.

"I'm pretty happy that our guys got some confidence beating Ireland in Ireland," he told Radio Sport.

"You're clutching at straws if that's how you are selecting teams. You pick players who can do the job you want them to do and play the style of game you want to play.

"They've got enough good players there. I don't think it's about picking teams who beat us in Chicago."

Hansen expressed surprise at England captain Dylan Hartley's omission from the squad, saying it indicated Gatland was set to use rival England hooker Jamie George as an impact player off the bench.

He said Scotland would feel "aggrieved" at only having two players in the touring party, but said the overall squad had depth and looked "pretty good".

"It's very much a Gats-type team... using the big ball carriers up front and the midfielders to carry. The selections reflect that," he said, calling Sam Warburton's appointment as captain "a no-brainer".

Hansen questioned Gatland's assertion that the Lions had an edge in goal-kicking, saying their percentages may be superior but the All Blacks' kickers were proven performers on the big stage.

"It's all about how you deal with the pressure in the big moments," he said. "Our guys in the big moments have done us proud, Beauden [Barrett] and Crudes [Aaron Cruden]."

He said the All Blacks were used to the psychological burden of playing as favourites but it would be a new experience for some of the Lions. 

"They'll be expected to win this Test series, it's one of the best Lions teams that's been selected for a long, long time," he said.

"People will have high expectations and those players will feel that how they deal with it will be interesting to see." 

Hansen also dismissed criticism of the Lions gruelling schedule, which includes fixtures against all five New Zealand Super Rugby teams, the Maori All Blacks, as well as three Tests.

While Hansen's predecessor Graham Henry has labelled the itinerary "suicidal", Hansen said any tour of New Zealand was always going to be a challenge.

"We've got good rugby teams, I'm not sure why everyone's so surprised it's going to be a tough tour," he said.

"Gats would have okayed that. If you're going to come to New Zealand you're going to play good rugby players."

Agence France-Presse

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