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Gatland lays blame at players' door as he plans shake-up for second Test

New Zealand 30 Lions 15

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Warren Gatland has laid the blame for Saturday's opening Test defeat to New Zealand firmly at his players' door after launching a withering assessment of their commitment levels in the face of All Black aggression at Eden Park.

By questioning his players' pride, the Lions coach is looking for a response, but he is likely to shake things up for the second Test just in case, with Peter O'Mahony set to be dropped in favour of Sam Warburton.

Maro Itoje is also in line to come into the team at the expense of either Alun-Wyn Jones or George Kruis, both of whom performed poorly.

After the game, Steve Hansen spoke about his side's ability to get "down and dirty" when they wanted to, having switched tactics to take on the Lions up front by playing off scrum-half Aaron Smith and sending big men down the close channels. It worked a treat as the All Black forwards won collision after collision.

They removed the Lions' supposed pillars of strength from beneath them, negating their line speed, demeaning their scrum and beating them up in the contact zone. It was demoralising stuff.

Gatland was clinging to the try-scoring opportunities his side created but didn't take, but he knows his side cannot win a Test match here with that sort of insipid approach to the physical side of the game.

"If I was playing and I felt that I was physically dominated, I'd be a little bit disappointed in myself and I'd be doing everything I could do the following week to make sure I fixed that area of the game," he said.

"If I felt my pride was hurt a little bit, I'd be wanting to fix that.

"They're aware that we weren't as strong in that contact area as we can be and we have to improve. If you've played at the top level you know when that area hasn't been right and sometimes it's mindset. You do whatever it takes for the following week to make sure you change that.

"Sometimes it's an attitude thing, getting off the line and winning collisions. It's just a mental thing. In fairness to (New Zealand), they were pretty aggressive at the breakdown; came hard and won the collisions.

"It's disappointing, sometimes that's a pride factor. We need to make sure that we're a lot more physical in the contact area in both attack and defence.

"If we get that right the transfer from that area to other parts of the game will be huge.

"It's not (being) mentally right, it's just that they've been a bit more aggressive at the breakdown area.

"I'm not saying it was for the entire 80 minutes - there were times when we were excellent, times when the defence was good and times when we carried well. But overall they got the better of us in that area and we need to improve in that aspect."

Speaking in Wellington after naming his team to face the Hurricanes, Gatland signalled at least two changes to his pack.

He never once used O'Mahony's name in the briefing, but did hail Warburton's influence off the bench.

However, Warburton has been way off the pace on this tour and despite Gatland's public utterance to the contrary, there was little evidence on Saturday of him hitting form.

There is no doubt that Itoje should come into the team after the dreadful showing from both locks. It would be no surprise to see Courtney Lawes promoted as well, with Iain Henderson on the bench, presuming both come through tomorrow's game unscathed.

NEW ZEALAND - B Smith (A Cruden 28 HIA); I Dagg, R Crotty (A Lienert-Brown 32), SB Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith (TJ Perenara 58); J Moody (W Crockett 54), C Taylor (N Harris 67), O Franks (C Faumuina 54); B Retallick, S Whitelock; J Kaino (A Savea 46), S Cane, K Read (capt) (S Barrett 77).

LIONS - L Williams (L Halfpenny 72); A Watson, J Davies, B Te'o (J Sexton 58), E Daly; O Farrell, C Murray (R Webb 68); M Vunipola (J McGrath 52), J George (K Owens 68), T Furlong (K Sinckler 59); AW Jones (M Itoje 48), G Kruis; P O'Mahony (capt, S Warburton 54), S O'Brien, T Faletau.

Ref -J Peyper (South Africa)

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