Gatland urges Lions to get creative

Mon, 05 Jun 2017 09:28

B&I LIONS SPOTLIGHT: Coach Warren Gatland has given the British and Irish Lions free rein to express themselves under new captain Ken Owens as he seeks a much-improved performance against the Blues on Wednesday.

Gatland was not impressed by what he saw during the Lions' first fixture, a 13-7 win over a team of relatively unknown New Zealanders lumped together under a Provincial Barbarians banner. 

The Blues, with eight All Blacks in their ranks, may be the weakest New Zealand Super Rugby side but they will be a more formidable opposition than the Barbarians.

Gatland, when he named his all-new line-up to play the Blues, said he was looking for players with " X-factor and that means an offload or something that is a little bit outside the box". 

He has totally overhauled the starting XV from the Barbarians game, including giving the captaincy to a fit-again Wales hooker Owens. 

While he said the Lions "need to be more clinical", Gatland rejected suggestions they will play to a set formula.

"What do you mean by one type of game?" he responded when asked if he had only one coaching style - the familiar Wales physical direct play.

"The message to the players is that we want to play positive rugby and move the ball and create chances," he said.

"The players have to back their ability. We don't want to be prescribed and play by numbers. They have been encouraged to demonstrate their level of skill and hopefully, we can do that on Wednesday."

Wales pair Dan Biggar and Rhys Webb will fill the crucial halves roles, with Ireland flyhalf Jonathan Sexton - an unimpressive starter in Whangarei - on the bench.

"We have a few work-ons from last weekend and we know we need to be more clinical," Gatland said.  

"We created some good opportunities against the Barbarians but didn't see them through and that is something we want to improve on." 

Owens was unavailable for the tour opener because of the ankle injury which also kept him out of the Scarlets' Pro12 Final win against Munster last month.

But Gatland said he was fit to take over from tour captain Sam Warburton for what will be the Lions' first test against a Super Rugby team.

"We have stated from the off that we want to give every player a start in the first three games, and Wednesday is an opportunity for this set of players to show what they can do in a Lions jersey," Gatland said. 

"We have made 15 changes to the starting XV and we are excited to see what this team is able to do against the Blues."

Jared Payne, a late scratching from the Barbarians match because of a thigh injury, will also start, partnering Ireland teammate Robbie Henshaw in the centres. 

Agence France-Presse

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