AUCKLAND, June 25 (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has accused New Zealand players of “diving blindly” at the legs of Conor Murray after the scrumhalf’s box kicks during the first test.
The All Blacks won Saturday’s match 30-15 despite Murray’s booming kicks again proving an effective weapon for the Lions and Gatland said he would be talking to the match officials about the matter ahead of next week’s second test in Wellington.
“It’s a little bit tough when you see someone dive at someone’s leg,” he told reporters after arriving in the New Zealand capital on Sunday.
”You feel for the player and it’s concerning that they’re not actually trying to charge the kick down, they’re nowhere near it. They’re diving blindly and hitting someone’s leg.
“For me it’s about protecting the players and making sure they’re safe. That’s my biggest concern. I’ll be asking politely the officials, to look at that and make sure they protect them.”
While conceding once again that the Lions had lost the battle of the collision at Eden Park, Gatland suggested that the tourists would have been criticised for using the direct approach that won the All Blacks the game.
“They didn’t really play champagne rugby did they? If we had played that way and won the game it would have been interesting to see the reaction,” said the New Zealander.
”I told the guys not to expect them to be expansive because as a Kiwi I understand what the mindset is, to stop the strength of the opposition...
”To stop our line speed, our driven lineout, and have a crack at our scrum. They did all those things and were very physical at the breakdown.
“It wasn’t a surprise the way they came at us, we’ve got to learn from that and be better and expect more of the same on Saturday.”
Gatland earlier named his side for the final midweek match of the tour, Tuesday’s clash with the Wellington Hurricanes, and stressed that test spots were still up for grabs in what is shaping up as the defining week of the tour.
“There’s no hiding away from the fact that this week is very important for us,” he said. “The need to get a good performance, a good result, on Tuesday and then to build into Saturday is going to be pretty crucial for us.” (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Toby Davis)