LONDON (Reuters) - Ireland’s victory over the All Blacks last year was key to convincing the British and Irish Lions that they can win in New Zealand and that the double world champions are human after all, coach Warren Gatland said on Wednesday.
Ireland ended New Zealand’s world record 18-match winning streak with a 40-29 victory in Chicago last November, and with several of the team included in the 41-man Lions squad as well as Andy Farrell reprising his Ireland defence coach role for the Lions, Gatland said the result was a huge psychological help.
“As coaches you’re trying to deliver that message sometimes when you’re playing the All Blacks, about confidence and self-belief,” Gatland told reporters after naming his squad on Wednesday.
“You’re not too sure when you get that glazed look from the players if they honestly believe that,” he added.
”So, Ireland doing that in Chicago was pretty special. Especially, considering after it was 25-8 at halftime, to see the All Blacks come back and look like they were going to steal it and then for the Irish in that last 10 minutes to put them under pressure.
“To see some of those world-class players be human, make some mistakes, show some frailties... that gives you that self-belief and confidence. Some of the England players having beaten them in 2012 too, so you’ve got to go there believing.”
Gatland said another key to the Lions’ hopes of securing only a second series victory in New Zealand in more than 100 years is to embrace the culture of a nation where rugby is king.
The New Zealander believes some teams fell down on that front during the 2011 World Cup in his homeland and paid a heavy price.
”It’s really tough place to go to and tour,“ he said. ”The intensity, the knowledge of the nation. It’s not going to be like Australia in 2013 when we arrived in Melbourne and all of the people were saying: ‘Who are these people wearing red jerseys?’ They had no idea the Lions were in town.
“Wherever we go in New Zealand, we’re going to be inundated by fans who are incredibly excited about us being there and also very knowledgeable about the Lions, the players, the performances and the expectation as well.”
Away from rugby too Gatland said the Lions would embrace the country’s heritage, starting with a Maori welcome.
Quite what the locals will make of his plans to reply with songs in Welsh and Gaelic remains to be seen, but Gatland has also suggested some classic local films that he hopes will help the tourists understand his compatriots’ humour and outlook.
“We’ve got to earn some respect a little bit from the New Zealand public, we have a few bridges to mend from 2005,” he said in reference to the last Lions tour there under Clive Woodward.
On that trip the Lions were particularly insular and even hired former Downing Street spin doctor Alastair Campbell, making few friends en route to a 3-0 series defeat.
“If we go there prepared then we understand our enemy a bit better,” Gatland said.
”It’s not just the rugby culture, it’s the culture of the nation. I’ve got to be able to communicate that to the players and that’s going to be part of the biggest challenge.
“What is coming is going to be opponents seeing this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to play against the Lions, to create some history, and every game is going to feel like a final to the Lions players,” he added.
“It’s going to be incredibly intense.”
Editing by Ed Osmond