Warren Gatland remained coy on his Test selection dilemma after watching a heavily-changed British and Irish Lions side dominate the Chiefs in a resounding 34-6 victory, though that did not stop the head coach using the result to hit back at Steven Hansen’s claim that there’s a split in his squad.
“Whatever people might say about a split in the camp, those boys are pretty together,” Gatland said immediately after the victory against his former club at the FMG Stadium, responding to his All Blacks rival Hansen’s claim that the calling-up of six players has led to two defined teams inside his expanded 46-man squad. “There was a real spirit in there and there was a sing-song after the game.”
Despite the result easing the pressure that is on Gatland following his decision to bring in four players from Wales and two from Scotland based more on their location rather if the merited inclusion, Hansen may well find himself given some more ammo in the pair’s ongoing war of words. Gatland did his best not to play any of the squad reinforcements, with only prop Allan Dell receiving playing time when Joe Marler was sin-binned.
British and Irish Lions player ratings vs Chiefs
“We wanted as many of the players as possible to go 80 minutes tonight,” Gatland said in defence of not playing the call-ups, choosing instead to focus on his original squad members. “Some of them haven’t played much rugby for a while.”
If Gatland was being coy on the matter, it was nothing compared to his Test selection dilemma, which will come to a head on Wednesday when the coaches hold their final selection meeting before the first Test on Saturday. The performances from Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell – who scored two tries in the victory – have given Gatland plenty of food for thought, with George North now under pressure to hold on to his place on the left wing in the Test side.
Daly was removed after 60 minutes in what appeared to be a nod towards the Wasps back playing some kind of role at Eden Park this weekend, though Gatland would only say that prospect is a possibility despite the England international being the only tactical replacement of the night for the Lions.
“I think the performances have been good. Not everyone agrees with that opinion,” Gatland added.
“We are pretty happy with where we are at at the moment. The selection meeting will be tough and that’s the way we want it. Guys put up their hands tonight and there will be some healthy debate.
“We spoke about the quality of the squad before we left and some players haven’t disappointed us.”
“The selection meeting will be with all the coaches. It’s the consensus of that group, it’s never one person’s call. It’s coaches discussing the options and the positions and collectively agreeing. I am sure there will be some lively debate and discussion. It won’t be saying, it will be all of us contributing and having a voice and an opinion.”
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