In telling the travelling media pack about his concerns regarding the so-called off-the-ball blocking apparently employed by New Zealand's rugby teams, Warren Gatland appears to have finally realised he has to fight Steve Hansen's fire with a few shots of his own.

He could be too late. All Blacks coach Hansen went straight on the front foot when he revealed to the media that Gatland was bringing in extra players in order to protect his test team - a move which has created controversy in the United Kingdom and here from those who feel it devalues the famous red jersey.

Hansen effectively owned the story, and no matter the ground Gatland tried to gain by saying it was always the plan for reinforcements to travel to New Zealand, it all sounded a bit after the fact. The news cycle had moved on, as it does these days.

Gatland's dig back at Hansen in Rotorua after his team's victory over the New Zealand Maori also had a sense of stage management, as though he knew the question about his counterpart's comments was coming from the floor.


Hansen must be "worried" to talk about the Lions because he was normally "calm and collected", Gatland said. Fair play to him for having a crack back but it all sounded rehearsed and a bit forced - to these ears, anyway.

Gatland's latest, that many New Zealand players block support runners or use subtle tactics to slow their opponents from chasing kicks, was designed to put Saturday's referee, Jaco Peyper, and his officials on notice.

Peyper officiated in Rotorua, where the Lions beat the New Zealand Maori 32-10, and has just come under some subtle pressure himself.

"There is so much happening off the ball in terms of holding players or subtly holding players," Gatland told the British and Irish media in Hamilton. "We've raised it with the referees already.

"If you listen to the ref mic [in Rotorua], they were talking about it constantly through the game. They gave a couple of penalties for blocking."

It does serve to make Hansen's next meeting with the media on Thursday ahead of Saturday's first test at Eden Park a potentially interesting one, though. Does the All Blacks coach respond to Gatland, or does he ignore it altogether? Knowing Hansen, there is unlikely to be any middle ground.

The use of the media, particularly the travelling pack, to get his point across and score a few points is a slight departure from Gatland's charm offensive at the start of the tour, and indication too that the test series is nearly upon us.

A victory in the first test is key for Gatland, who will feel that if the All Blacks are going to vulnerable it will be at Eden Park on Saturday with only a warm-up test against Manu Samoa as preparation.

Gatland appears to be enjoying the visit to his home town but is already focusing almost entirely on that first test, and is using all the tools at his disposal this week, just as his players must.