WARREN Gatland yesterday reflected on a mixed performance by the British and Irish Lions in their latest Australia tour match.
Although the Lions predictably crushed a Combined Country XV of mostly part-time players 64-0 at Hunter Stadium, scoring ten tries, the second-half display contained a number of uncharacteristic errors.
In four games so far, the Lions have racked up 214 points and 28 tries, but only one of those fixtures – last Saturday’s clash against Queensland Reds in Brisbane – seriously tested them. Their next two encounters, against New South Wales Waratahs and the Brumbies, should challenge them ahead of Saturday week’s first Test match against Australia in Brisbane.
“It was a lot of use,” said Lions head coach Gatland, who was short and to the point with his post-match press conference answers. “That team only had one training session together. There was some excellent stuff, and there was some average stuff as well. There were a few turnovers.
“There is great harmony within the squad. We are undefeated so, if we can win the next two games, we will arrive in Brisbane undefeated. We will be in a good positive frame of mind.”
The Lions led 38-0 at half-time, but the second period was low-key in comparison, even though the tourists ended up with tries from George North (two), Richard Hibbard, Alex Cuthbert, Stuart Hogg, Jonathan Davies, Leigh Halfpenny, Conor Murray, Brian O’Driscoll and Sean O’Brien.
Gatland, meanwhile, said that wing Tommy Bowe remains hopeful of being fit for the second Test in Melbourne on 29 June, and currently remains with the squad.
Bowe underwent surgery on his hand last Sunday, and his Ireland team-mate Simon Zebo arrived in Australia today as injury cover. “There is a good chance he [Zebo] might be involved in the next two games,” Gatland added. “Now that Simon is here, we will try to involve him in some way.”
The Country XV produced a resilient second-half effort to limit the Lions to comfortably fewer than the points century some pundits had been predicting. “It was what you would expect. Not many people get an opportunity to play against the Lions,” Lions skipper O’Driscoll said. “They were excited about it and they weren’t going to leave anything behind. We felt a couple of impacts out there. We probably got a little bit flat, depth-wise, and some passes were thrown behind, when a little bit of depth might have made things a lot easier. That is one easy fix.
“We tried to kick on in the second half but it just didn’t really happen for us at times. We should have been able to kick on, but we didn’t.”
Country coach Cameron Blades praised his players’ efforts, but he was also complimentary of the Lions as the countdown continues towards the Test series.
“At times in the first half it was rabbits in highlights and we struggled to react, especially when there was turnover ball. They cut us apart a few times,” Blades said. “But there was really positive talk in the changing room at half-time, and I thought that showed in the second half.
“I think the Wallabies will learn a lot out of tonight. We had four props in our squad who have not played any higher than premier club rugby.
“They are an outstanding side, the Lions. We showed a little bit in the second half that if you can get in their face they can make errors. But they are a slick outfit – it is going to be a cracking series. They put us under a fair bit of pressure at times. They are a very organised set-piece team, but I think the Wallabies will be able to do plenty of work on them.”
And captain Tim Davidson added: “The width they played with was exceptional. In the second half we spoke about the longer we could defend against them, the more mistakes they would make. Full credit to the Lions, and how important this game was to country rugby in Australia. I really hope this is a full-time fixture in years to come. We will remember it for the rest of our lives. That is what rugby is all about.”