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Gatland defends Lions call-ups

17 June 2017 National Sport

Last Updated: 17/06/17 2:37pm

Warren Gatland was pleased at how his team overcame the Maori All Blacks

British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland has played down concerns over calling up new players in the middle of the New Zealand tour.

to ease the fixture burden with Gatland rejecting the chance to draft in anyone from England or Ireland due to extended travel times.

Speaking to Sky Sports before Saturday’s 32-10 win over the Maori All Blacks, and the selection policy was “difficult to justify”, while Stephen Ferris felt the badge had been devalued.

England head coach Eddie Jones, currently touring in Argentina, said players should be chosen on “merit rather than geographical proximity”, adding it was “only a 13-hour trip from here to New Zealand”.

Gatland said: “I understand the concerns but as I’ve said it’s all about the Test series, it’s all about us doing that for the best opportunity for the first Test.

“We did that in 2013 [in Australia] and if we hadn’t have done that then we could have easily lost the series.

“Does it devalue the shirt? You’re only a Lion when you get on the field and there’s a few of those players that were probably unlucky not to potentially be in contention in the first place.

“We’ve picked up a couple of injuries. In terms of devaluing the shirt, I can see some people’s point of view on that but we’re here to win a Test series.

“We found it difficult the first 10 days when we were here in terms of jet-lag and tiredness and stuff. The [Welsh] players that came in from Auckland last night and from Australia will be able to fit quickly into that time zone.”

The Wales players drafted in are Gareth Davies, Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey and Tomas Francis, while Finn Russell and Allan Dell join up from Scotland.

Sir Ian McGeechan gave his thoughts on the recent call-ups to the Lions squad

Wales flanker Ross Moriarty has been ruled out of the rest of the Lions tour because of a back injury.

The Lions next play the Chiefs Tuesday with the first of the three Tests against the All Blacks on June 24 at Eden Park in Auckland.

Gatland is optimistic over Owen Farrell (quad strain) making the opening Test, and he cranked up the pressure on his All Blacks counterpart Steve Hansen who has criticised the Lions’ playing style and their decision to bolster the squad mid-tour.

“I’ve been surprised by Steve Hansen, who is normally pretty calm,” added Gatland.

“He has been doing a lot of press conferences and I can only take that as a sign of respect in that he is a little bit worried.

Sir Ian McGeechan picks his Lions XV to face New Zealand in the first Test next Saturday

“Maybe he is worried by potentially how good this team can be. We know we have got a big step up to play the All Blacks but all I can say is that this could be a great Test series with fantastic rugby. Everyone could get excited.

“Saying these comments about us, things he knows about or doesn’t know about, that is normally a sign of a man that is a little bit worried.”

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