AUCKLAND – British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland thinks the three-Test series against New Zealand remains very much alive despite the disappointment of Saturday’s 30-15 defeat in the opener.
Popular wisdom had it that the Lions would have to catch the All Blacks cold on Saturday if they were to have any chance of securing a first series win in New Zealand since 1971.
Gatland, though, thought his team showed enough at Eden Park to give them a foundation to win the second Test in Wellington next week and return to Auckland for a decider in a fortnight, even if they left a couple of opportunities on the pitch.
“I thought we created some great chances, we played some lovely rugby and scored a couple of nice tries, which was hugely positive,” the New Zealander told a news conference.
“It was a bit disappointing that there were a couple of golden moments, great opportunities to score, and then we just switched off for a moment...”
Gatland was less impressed with his team’s discipline, one lapse in concentration that led to the All Blacks’ first try, a couple of soft handling errors and most of all how the hosts dominated the tight-five battle.
“For me, those things are all fixable,” he said. “The All Blacks haven’t played champagne rugby and thrown the ball all over the place.
“In fairness to them, they were very direct upfront, and we need to be better at combating them in those areas.”
Gatland said the squad would head down to the New Zealand capital without any injury problems beyond “a couple of stingers”, which was good news given the test in the tight that New Zealand presented on Saturday.
“We’ve got to be much more physical next week against the All Blacks because they came with a very physical approach tonight and were very direct,” he said.
“We need to improve in that area.”
Gatland said he would also be looking for an improvement in the catch-and-drive from the lineout, an effective tool in previous tour matches but successfully countered by New Zealand on Saturday.
Another key set piece moment came early in the second half when the All Blacks pack monstered the Lions scrum, leading directly to winger Rieko Ioane’s first try. Gatland’s other “work-on” for the week was reducing the number of penalties conceded, 11 on Saturday night.
“If you look at the games we’ve played, that’s been the disappointing thing, we’ve given away soft penalties and they’ve been costly,” Gatland said.
“You put yourself under pressure and when we had them squeezed down around their line, we gave them a soft exit. It’s an area we need to look at and make sure we improve for next week.”
* Ireland hooker Rory Best will lead the Lions for a second time on the tour after being named captain in the team to play the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
Best led the Lions to a convincing 34-6 win over the Chiefs and will captain a similar side against the Super Rugby champions.
The Lions players who lost the series-opener against the All Blacks have all been rested, but Gatland said those who impressed in the final midweek match against the Hurricanes could force their way into calculations for the second Test on Saturday at the same venue.
“We are obviously hugely disappointed with the result last night, but it is important to regroup,” Gatland said in a team release on Sunday.
“We know there are a lot of players motivated to go out and get a result for the whole group.
“A few players put their hands up for selection from the Chiefs game and played their way into the Test team, so they know that there is another opportunity for them on Tuesday against the Super Rugby champions.”
15 Jack Nowell, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 George North, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James Haskell, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Bench: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Alan Dell, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 George Kruis, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Jared Payne.