WELLINGTON (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland breathed a palpable sigh of relief after his side beat the Canterbury Crusaders 12-3 in Christchurch on Saturday to give their tour of New Zealand some momentum.
Gatland’s side had been heavily criticised after a mediocre start to their 10-match tour, with an unconvincing 13-7 victory over the Provincial Barbarians and a 22-16 loss to the Auckland Blues on Wednesday.
”We needed to win,“ Gatland said after his side upped their performance to test-level intensity to beat the seven-times Super Rugby champions. ”It has been a tough week.
”There has been a lot of criticism and people had written the tour off after two matches.
”That has been challenging and we have had to stay tight within the group.
“But I‘m really pleased, more with the result than the performance. We needed that.”
The Lions were superbly directed by flyhalf Owen Farrell and scrumhalf Conor Murray, who are now likely to be the starting halfback combination for the first test against the All Blacks in Auckland on June 24.
The duo’s kicking game put constant pressure on the Crusaders back three, while the tourists’ defence caused numerous mistakes by the home side who had been the form team in Super Rugby this season, having won all 14 games.
The Lions’ line speed shut down Crusaders’ flyhalf Richie Mo‘unga’s options, while the home side also seemed bereft of attacking thrust, instead trying to play into contact rather than seek space or change the angle of attack.
“I thought we were aggressive. We really got off the line, no matter where we were on the field,” Farrell said of his side’s defensive effort.
”We had a great feeling out there. We really wanted to attack them for the full 80 minutes.
“I thought we were really connected. We got up off the floor and pushed ... and that gave us some great front-foot ball.”
While the Lions made a step up from their performance against the Blues, Gatland felt they needed to be more clinical when they did get try-scoring opportunities.
They blew two certain chances on Saturday and had to rely on Farrell’s boot for all their points. They have scored two tries in three games.
“We are creating opportunities we just need to finish off those chances,” Gatland, the former All Blacks hooker, added.
“This was another step up but still a lot for us to work on.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Ed Osmond