07262017

Gatland did not want to ‘devalue’ Lions shirt by bringing on replacements

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Henderson and Lawes give Gatland ‘food for thought’

The controversy over the British and Irish Lions call-ups influenced the decision not to bring them off the bench against the Hurricanes, says coach Warren Gatland.

Four of the eight replacements did not feature as the Lions let slip a 14-point lead to draw 31-31 at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

George Kruis and Leigh Halfpenny came off the bench, but Finn Russell – as a brief replacement – was the only ‘geographical’ call-up to play a part.

Gatland said: “So much was made about devaluing the jersey, so we made a decision we would try and get through the game with as many of the starting XV as we could.”

Russell, Allan Dell, Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill and Gareth Davies were called up to the squad as injury cover because they were already in Australasia with their national teams.

A host of former Lions criticised the decision to select players for logistical reasons rather than on merit.

Of the six, only Dell – against the Chiefs – and Russell – on Tuesday – have played for the Lions in New Zealand, and both only briefly as injury replacements.

“I understand people’s views, so you’ve got to take cognisance of that,” said Gatland.

“So we make a collective decision that we make them injury or HIA (head injury assessment) replacements, which is what happened on two occasions.”

Lawes and Henderson in Test frame

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British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland analyses Iain Henderson’s performance against the Hurricanes

The Lions trail 1-0 in the three-Test series against the All Blacks.

Second rows Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson stood out in Wellington, with Lawes’ withdrawal early in the second half pointing to his inclusion in the 23-man squad for the second Test at the same ground on Saturday.

Henderson was the Lions’ outstanding performer, but a yellow card for foul play after 65 minutes proved costly as the Hurricanes came from behind to salvage a draw.

“He carried fantastically well,” said Gatland, who described Henderson’s yellow card was a “crucial moment”.

“It was a penalty to us which ends up being a penalty reversed and a yellow card and that’s the game.”

Gatland added: “Courtney Lawes carried well too in the first half. It’s a position right from the start where we knew we had a lot of strength.

“It’s a toss-up in terms of selection. Those two guys had really strong games tonight to give us some real food for thought.”

Gatland said the coaching staff will meet on Wednesday evening to discuss the squad and tell the players on Thursday.

Clown comparison doesn’t worry Gatland

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New Zealander Gatland said he does not care that the New Zealand Herald newspaper mocked up a picture of him as a clown on their front page.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen described Gatland’s accusations that New Zealand illegally targeted Conor Murray in the first Test as “desperate”.

“I’m not worried about what Steve Hansen says or what any newspaper draws me up as,” said Gatland. “I just hope it was a happy clown!

“There’s been a significant campaign against me personally, but that’s water off a duck’s back to me.

“I’ve just got to concentrate on doing my job and not worry about any specific individuals who try and make it personal. It’s part of professional sport.”

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