Steve Hansen: Gatland 'clutching at straws'

Author
NZ Herald Staff,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Thursday, 20 April 2017, 10:51AM

Steve Hansen has claimed Lions coach Warren Gatland might be "clutching at straws" with his selection policy.

And the All Blacks' boss has taken a few return pot shots at Gatland in a goalkicking war-of-words in the lead up to the three-test rugby series.

When told by Radio Sport's Martin Devlin that Gatland had placed a lot of store on the Irish players who had withstood the All Blacks comeback in Chicago, Hansen said: "I'm pretty happy that our guys got some confidence beating Ireland in Ireland.

LISTEN ABOVE AS STEVE HANSEN SPEAKS WITH MARTIN DEVLIN 

"You are clutching at straws if that's how you are selecting teams. You pick players who can do the job you want them to do, who play the style of game you want to play.

"They've got enough good players there. It's not about picking teams who beat us in Chicago."

After the Lions were named, Gatland highlighted that All Black first five-eighths Beauden Barrett wasn't even kicking for the Hurricanes, emphasising that the Lions would head south with a squadron of goalkicking aces.

Hansen said: "I remember a game in 2013 (against Ireland)... statistics don't mean anything when pressure is involved. They (Ireland) should have won the game with goal kicking, but we did with a guy kicking from the sideline.

"They have some very very good goal kickers, no disputing that, and goalkicking is very important to the game, no disputing that, but it's all about how you deal with the pressure in the big moments. Our guys in the big moments have done us proud, Beauden and Crudes (Aaron Cruden).

"Lima (Sopoaga) will come back and he's a very good goalkicker. It's under pressure which counts, not the ones in front."

Hansen expressed surprise at Dylan Hartley's omission but said all coaches saw situations differently. He is expecting Gatland's side to play an uncomplicated game in the test series in keeping with Gatland's standard operating procedure.

Hansen said: "I've never seen him do anything else other than that. I guess we need to be prepared for what we normally get and prepare for something different as well. All come out when he selects his test team

"He's done most of his coaching up north got a particular style he likes which works for him up there using big ball carriers up front, big midfielders to carry.

"It tells you what his mindset is, how wants to play, if he shoves Ben Te'o to No. 12. You will see Ben carrying strong up the middle a la Jamie Roberts for years for Wales."

And Hansen turned the heat on the Lions, saying they face a new type of pressure, one that All Blacks are used to dealing with.

Hansen said: "They come with a massive expectation. Our advantage is we play with that expectation all the time.

"They'll be expected to win this series, one of the best Lions team for a long, long time. How they deal with that will be interesting to see."

He said every touring team faced tough times in New Zealand, and the Lions were no different.

"It's a big squad, he's got a big coaching squad and it's a big unit to move around, a lot of people and a lot of gear. They'll have to do that well," said Hansen.

"It's always going to be a tough tour if you come to New Zealand, we've got good rugby teams. Gats would have okayed the idea - I'm sure they would have spoken to him about what sort of itinerary the Lions would need. It's not going to be easy - that's a tick in the box for all the people that are working in rugby in New Zealand."

When Devlin asked Hansen whether Sam Whitelock, who has just re-signed with New Zealand until 2020, was test captaincy material, Hansen said: "He is captaining the Crusaders very well and doing a great job in our leadership group and playing very well. We'll wait and see."

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