Rugby: Coach Warren Gatland highlights goal-kicking as Lions edge

Lions coach Warren Gatland. Photo/AP Photos
Lions coach Warren Gatland. Photo/AP Photos

Lions coach Warren Gatland has highlighted goal-kicking as a major issue going into the test series against the All Blacks.

While the All Blacks are struggling in that department, the 41-man Lions squad will include a clutch of ace marksmen led by Owen Farrell, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar and Johnny Sexton, while utility outside back Elliot Daly is a noted long-range specialist.

"Beauden Barrett is not kicking goals at the moment, and it is one area, which could be a point of difference," he told the New Zealand media this morning.

"We will have four or five of the best goal-kickers in the world."

In other key points, Gatland said:

- Kiwi hooker Dylan Hartley's disciplinary record was not part to their discussion, so not the reason he had been left out.

"There was a lively debate, he is very unlucky," said Gatland, who added that fellow England hooker Jamie George was "an outstanding young player", while Rory Best and Ken Owens had excellent Six Nations campaigns.

- Coaches were still not convinced about the pecking order in some positions and there would be a lot of competition on tour for places.

That competition would build a real fighting spirit, but it was also vital for players to be supportive team members, when they were left out.

A balance was needed between protecting the test players and not making others feel left out of the test calculations.

- Winning the first test at Eden Park was paramount to their hopes of winning the series.

- League convert Ben Te'o, who was raised in Auckland, was being taken as an inside centre was a big chance to be on the bench in the tests.

"We see Ben as a 12, whereas England use him as a 13. He is really effective as an impact player," Gatland said. "He can be very direct ball carrier but he is much more than that.

"He has the ability to offload and has more strings to his bow than just getting across the gain-line. We've got to match the All Blacks' impact off the bench."

- Gatland was particularly delighted with the selection of Jared Payne, the former Northland captain. Gatland coached Payne at Waikato, but he was not re-signed and moved to Northland, where he made his name.

"He's played some big matches where Ireland have been successful, especially against Southern Hemisphere teams," Gatland said. "His win record with Ireland has been very impressive, whereas they haven't gone so well without him.

"We've picked him at 13 [centre], but he can play fullback and at a pinch on the wing."

- Against many predictions, England ace Owen Farrell has been picked primarily as a first five-eighth.

"We've picked Owen as a 10, that's where he plays for Saracens and we know he can cover 12. He's a very strong defensive players and if they do come at us in that 10/12 channel ... we know what a running threat Beauden Barrett is and the way he is playing at the moment.

"Having a playmaker at 12 , there is the opportunity to pick Owen at 12."

- The Lions are expecting plenty of injury issues, with Gatland saying 6-10 players had been lost on previous tours. Initially, they were to pick a squad of 36, but boosted that to 41.

- He also wants to win over the New Zealand public, no doubt to remove distractions that could affect their performances.

Gatland made direct reference to the bitter 2005 tour under Clive Woodward. He even believes it is important for his players to understand New Zealand culturally - films such as Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Whale Rider will be on offer to the players although he wasn't sure if Once Were Warriors and Goodbye Pork Pie would fit the bill.

There would be a big effort made to ensure the touring squad were up to speed with other things, such as knowing the right Maori protocol.

"Let's be honest, there are a few bridges to build from 2005," he said. "We will do some community stuff early on, charities, hospitals, we've got a welcome at the Treaty grounds and we've got to make sure we do that properly.

"In the past, teams haven't gone there culturally prepared. You've got to understand New Zealand and New Zealand humour ... what makes Kiwis tick.

"Hopefully, we can get some respect from the New Zealand people. If you can win over the public, you can let the rugby do the talking."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 25 May 2017 00:45:00 Processing Time: 937ms