ROTORUA, New Zealand, June 17 (Reuters) - The British and Irish Lions sent a strong message to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen on Saturday with an impressive 32-10 victory over the Maori All Blacks.
The test series is going to be the struggle everyone expected it to be.
The Lions had lurched through the first four matches of their tour with only one solid performance, the 12-3 win over the Canterbury Crusaders last Saturday.
In Rotorua, however, they ground the Maori into submission and pulled off a victory that could have been more emphatic.
The game had been billed as an unofficial fourth test, but the Lions produced such a brutal and clinical second half, particularly when Maori scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow was in the sinbin, the home side were struggling to hang on.
Lions coach Warren Gatland said the result, and the fact that Hansen had been speaking out about the visitors in the past week, indicated that he was getting concerned about the test series.
“Normally he’s pretty calm but he has been doing a lot of press conferences and I can only take that as a sign of respect,” Gatland said.
”The only thing I can take from that is that Steve is a little bit worried about potentially how good this team can be.
Gatland added that his side had been under pressure after the patchy performances, which included 22-16 loss to the Auckland Blues and a 23-22 defeat by the Otago Highlanders last Tuesday.
Many pundits have noted there was a significant difference in performance between the Lions teams that played ‘midweek’ and the one on Saturday, which is expected to make up the majority of his first test side.
Gatland, however, reiterated the message that he has adopted throughout the tour.
“We have been written off but we have said all along that it’s about winning the test series and that’s what we’re here to do,” he said.
”If we drop a couple of games along the way then we can live with that as long as we showed improvement.
”We know we have got a big step up against the All Blacks but all I can say is that is it going to be a great rugby series.
“Everyone can get excited about it.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury,; Editing by Pritha Sarkar