Gatland: Still Lions spots up for grabs

Sat, 17 Jun 2017 12:59

LIONS TOUR REACTION: Coach Warren Gatland said Test spots to face the All Blacks were still up for grabs after the British and Irish Lions' 32-10 mauling of the Maori All Blacks on Saturday.

Gatland said he would wait until after the Lions' final warm-up against the Chiefs on Tuesday before deciding his team for next week's opening Test in Auckland.

"It's a nice stepping-stone for next week," coach Gatland said, after the Lions' comprehensive victory in wet conditions in Rotorua.

"A few guys are going to get opportunities on Tuesday in the game against the Chiefs and after that we'll look at selecting the [Test] side."

The B&I Lions' mentor has already called up Wales' Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and Tomas Francis earlier in the week. The quartet attended the game against Maori All Blacks in Rotorua on Saturday.

In addition, following the conclusion of Australia versus Scotland Test, the B&I Lions also called up Allan Dell and Finn Russell.

The Scottish duo will link up with the squad in Hamilton on Sunday.

Captain Peter O'Mahony said the win provided crucial momentum in the Lions' bid to become only the second Lions side to win a series in New Zealand.

The Lions have lost two of their five tour games so far, but from the way they outplayed the Maori it is clear that they are growing in confidence.

With a shadow Test side, they showed they have nearly perfected the Gatland masterplan as they suffocated the life out of an overwhelmed opposition.

It was built around the accurate kick-chase game of Ireland halves Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, and a forward pack thriving on old-school driving up the middle.

It contrasts with the All Blacks' flamboyant, free-running focus where tries are paramount.

Gatland's Lions turned their 72 percent share of possession into a 75 percent territorial advantage and pressuring the Maori into mistakes enabled fullback Leigh Halfpenny to kick six penalties.

Despite their domination they only managed two tries - one a scrum-powered penalty try and one to impressive lock Maro Itoje, and both when Maori scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow was in the sin bin.

The arm-wrestle approach, however, suited Gatland who was not concerned about losing two midweek games so far, as long as his side were improving towards the Tests.

"It was a good performance," he said. "We've improved game after game just from the pure quality of the opposition that we've come up against.

"That was a step up again and I'm really really pleased with that performance.

"We got in behind them, we created some stuff and when you look at the attacking ability of the Maori backline they didn't cause us too many problems.

"I thought we defended well and the line-out and scrum and mauling were excellent."

Captain Peter O'Mahony singled out the powerful scrums and lineouts as laying the platform for the victory.

"Every game is based on a good set piece. It goes a long way to winning the game and I thought the boys were very good," he said.

"It [the win] is important for our momentum, our confidence. You don't want to be going into a game against the All Blacks with losses under our belt.

"This win goes a long way to building what we want to build."

Agence France-Presse

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