Impregnable fortress Eden Park a test for Lions

Captain Sam Warburton leading the British and Irish Lions out against the Highlanders. They will play the All Blacks on Saturday at Eden Park, where the world champions have not lost since 1994, in the first of three Tests.
Captain Sam Warburton leading the British and Irish Lions out against the Highlanders. They will play the All Blacks on Saturday at Eden Park, where the world champions have not lost since 1994, in the first of three Tests.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

AUCKLAND • British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has vowed to "let the rugby do the talking" as his side prepares for a blockbuster first Test against rugby world champions the All Blacks.

Gatland has traded barbs with New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen in recent weeks, but said he wanted to look at the positive aspects of the Tour ahead of Saturday's clash at Eden Park.

Hansen has accused Gatland of having only one style of play, claimed inside knowledge of the Lions reinforcements and warned New Zealand's thumping 78-0 over Samoa last week was "just the start".

After biting his tongue, Gatland said Hansen's comments showed he was worried about the Lions and also accused New Zealand players of illegal blocking tactics.

The Kiwi-born coach complained too that he had been "hammered" by a personal campaign against him in the local media. But he was in a conciliatory mood after the Lions shone in a 34-6 win over Waikato Chiefs on Tuesday, saying the tourists had tried to avoid venting their frustrations about issues such as obstruction.

"We haven't come out and b****ed and moaned about everything," he said. "The referees came back to me and said (Waisake) Naholo's try for the Highlanders shouldn't have been awarded because it was blocking.

"We haven't complained about that stuff... the referees have identified some of that and hopefully it gets stamped out of the game."

Gatland added that the Lions' fluidity in attack against the Chiefs showed that the composite team of players from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland was beginning to gel.

However, he added that they would have to step up against Hansen's back-to-back World Cup winners at Eden Park, a venue where the All Blacks have not been beaten for 23 years.

"From a defensive point of view, we're getting stronger and stronger against the best attacking teams in world rugby," he said. "On Saturday, we're up against the best team in the world in their own backyard, so we have to take things up a level."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2017, with the headline 'Impregnable fortress Eden Park a test for Lions'. Print Edition | Subscribe