Lions tour: Warren Gatland finally gets chance to return fire to critics after win over Crusaders

Lions prevail in war of attrition against Crusaders

At last, Warren Gatland got his chance to squeeze off some shots of his own.

In the wake of the British and Irish Lions 12-3 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night, coach Gatland, probably still picking the buckshot out of his hide following the mid-week loss to the Blues and mediocre performance in the opener against the NZ Baabaas, didn’t waste his chance to return fire.

“It has been a tough week, there has been a lot of criticism hasn’t there?” Gatland said. “People have written the tour off after just two games, and that has been challenging. We just had to stay strong within the group and keep the faith and say ‘look the goal is the test matches and … to improve on that.

Gatland shouldn’t have had to go too far from his laager to find some folks who were chuffed with this result; the vocal Lions fans, who made their presence felt at AMI Stadium, would have flooded the city’s watering holes to acknowledge their side’s victory over a team yet to taste defeat in Super Rugby.

Gatland’s lot did a number on the Crusaders and you couldn’t gripe about the result; the game plan was simple, and executed with brutal efficiency.

In addition to raining down bombs on the Crusaders back three, the Lions’ used a defensive line-speed that forced the Mainlanders into uncharacteristic errors, which reduced their chances to unleash their trademark counterattacks.

Their set pieces were also competitive, although the Crusaders hardly helped themselves by botching several lineouts in the first half.

Complaints about the way French referee Mathieu Raynal handled the scrums are already flowing in thick and fast, and afterwards Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock took a diplomatic stance.

Whitelock, who had to watch as his front rowers Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks seethed whenever Raynal lectured them, acknowledged his side struggled to adapt to the interpretation of the law according to the Frenchman – getting the gap and balance right was a talking point at halftime.

Until this defeat, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson hasn’t had to deliver a post-match sermon in the wake of a loss.

Owen Farrell, pictured kicking one of his four penalties at AMI Stadium, made his first start of the tour for the British and Irish Lions.

Although they expected the Lions to employ the blitz defence, as they did against the Blues, and was clearly not thrilled about the way his scrum, which contained six All Blacks, was caned by Raynal, he said they let themselves down with their own execution.

“It was like a washing machine, go back and go forward, as they put the ball behind you,” Robertson said. “We just didn’t deal with it as well as we would have liked to.”

This was no mean feat by the Lions who will face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday night – even if they had to rely on Owen Farrell to kick four penalties.

Keeping the Crusaders try-less, one of the most lethal attacking teams in Super Rugby, will be a massive confidence booster. So, too, was the way the backline functioned after having to be re-jigged following the loss of fullback Stuart Hogg and centre Jonathan Davies because they failed head injury assessments.

“We were up against the most creative team in Super Rugby and they didn’t create a lot of chances,” Gatland noted.

About 20 minutes after Gatland had delivered his sermon a small earthquake caused the city to shake. You could also say the Lions’ have sent a message will reverberate throughout New Zealand; maybe it won’t cause great anxiety for All Blacks fans, but it should give them cause to think twice when saying their team should steam through the test series 3-0.

British and Irish Lions 12 (Owen Farrell 4 pen) Crusaders 3 (Richie Mo’unga pen) HT: 9-3


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