Lions will '˜keep working hard' on scrums, insists Gatland

HEAD COACH Warren Gatland believes his British and Irish Lions can match the All Blacks scrum '“ however the set-piece is refereed.
British and Irish Lions' Ben Te'o is tackled by Crusaders' Matt ToddBritish and Irish Lions' Ben Te'o is tackled by Crusaders' Matt Todd
British and Irish Lions' Ben Te'o is tackled by Crusaders' Matt Todd

Gatland was nonplussed by criticism of the Lions’ scrum in their impressive win over the Crusaders, who fielded a full All Blacks tight-five.

The Lions appeared dominant at the coal face, save for one scrum where the hosts got the edge, resulting in an extended bout of jostling between the two packs.

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The Crusaders appeared to be annoyed with referee Mathieu Raynal’s handling of the scrum engagement laws, but Gatland rejected those concerns and insisted the Lions have prepared to cope with every style of officiating.

“I felt they had one scrum where they had some ascendancy; there was one where they just got a little bit under us,” said Gatland. “But I thought on the whole we scrummaged pretty well. I know there was some discussion, but I thought the referee did a good job; I didn’t have any issues with that.

“It’s an area that we’ll keep working hard on. We’ve spoken to the front-rowers about that.

“It’s not something I’m concerned about. I’m a little bit surprised that such a huge amount’s been made of the scrum.

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“If you look at the numbers elsewhere in terms of every other area of the game (against the Crusaders), I thought we dominated in every other area – lineout, territory, possession, carries, line breaks.

“So I think our scrum will be very strong by the time we come around to Test time.”

The northern and southern hemispheres have always favoured differing scrummaging styles, with the contrasts often leading to flashpoints in contests of the highest stakes.

Gatland’s comments suggest the Lions boss expects no different across the course of the 10-match New Zealand tour, with the Test series getting under way on June 24 in Auckland.

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Whatever the policing when the front-rows pack down, however, Gatland remains confident the Lions have the versatility and the potency to cope at the set-piece.

“I know there’s some discussion about engagement, the ruling says you must have a small gap and in Super Rugby they pre-load,” said Gatland.

“We’ve practised for both scenarios having come to New Zealand.

“So we have prepared to fully pre-load, and we’ve also practised with having a slight gap as well, depending on how the referee interprets it.

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“The law says there must be a small gap; they don’t play to the law of the game. So Super Rugby sides tend to scrummage illegally, if that’s the case.

“But I don’t think the scrum’s going to be a problem for us.”

Owen Farrell booted all the points on Saturday as the Lions inflicted the Crusaders’ first defeat this season, restricting a side boasting an average 37 points per match down to just a solitary penalty.

Sam Warburton has overcome his ankle injury and will captain the Lions against the Highlanders tomorrow.

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The Wales flanker missed the win over the Crusaders, but has made a full recovery and now has the chance to prove his form and fitness for the first All Blacks Test.

Ireland’s Jared Payne has shaken off a calf issue to start at full-back, while Wales’ Dan Biggar has beaten a head injury to feature at fly-half.

Stuart Hogg faces a nervous wait to discover whether his cheek injury could end his British and Irish Lions tour.

The Scotland full-back suffered a hugely unlucky facial injury against the Crusaders, running face-first into Conor Murray’s elbow.

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The Glasgow star collided with Murray as the Ireland scrum-half attempted to move out of Hogg’s way and Gatland said the full-back would be sent to a specialist to determine the extent of the damage to his cheek.

Centre Jonathan Davies must complete return-to-play protocols after a head knock, but is already free of any concussion symptoms, while Ross Moriarty is still carrying the after-effects of a back spasm.

Dan Biggar is fit to return and start at fly-half having completed all the relevant concussions testing, and Murray suffered a suspected dislocated finger against the Crusaders, but Lions bosses are unconcerned by the minor issue.

“Dan’s fine, he ran out with the team the other day,” said Gatland of fly-half Biggar. “He’s looking forward to the opportunity to get back on the park again.”