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Gatland's taking the big hits but Crusaders win lifted pressure on everyone

Crusaders 3 Lions 12

By Ruaidhri O'Connor

Although Warren Gatland was clearly stung by the criticism that greeted his side's uninspiring first week in New Zealand, it seems he's done a good job of insulating his players from the grief.

Having ended Crusaders' 14-match 100pc record in Christchurch, the Lions can move on from their teething problems and set their sights on the All Blacks.

Gatland sent a team that looked close to what he might field in the Test series and they delivered a performance that ticked most of the boxes.

Their defence was excellent, their kicking game was, according to Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, "world class", and their set-piece was dominant against an All Black tight five.

The missing link is their attacking game, but they're not panicking on that front, despite scoring just two tries in 240 minutes. They made 13 clean breaks on Saturday, beating 16 defenders; the kind of stats that would normally result in a big result. Their final pass didn't stick, but they are confident that will come with time.

"It's something we'll look to improve on," Conor Murray (pictured) said.

"But the fact that we are making line-breaks and busting teams and we counter-attacked well off a few kicks is really pleasing.

"Then it's probably the easier stuff - easier than making the line-breaks - in finishing them off. If we weren't making line-breaks, you'd be more worried. But it is something that is progressing. The night, the slippery ball, the slippery surface dictates the way you play a bit.

"We managed it quite well. Hopefully we'll start finishing a few."

Murray was excellent, pinning the Crusaders back time after time and putting accurate box-kicks up in the air that his wingers should have made more out of.

Outside him, Owen Farrell was an assured presence - kicking all of his side's points - and when Johnny Sexton came on early for the injured Jon Davies he moved out to the centre and the combination looked full of promise.

The Lions needed this result; the tour needed it as well.Gatland admitted the negative press had gotten to him, conceding it was a "tough" experience.

The players, however, were able to block it out.

"I think the coaches would be aware of that more," Murray pointed out.

"They try and keep that away from us. After a loss like that, and in a rugby-mad country, there is going to be criticism.

"We knew that coming down here. We are prepared for that and willing to accept that.

"We want to win games; when you lose you have to take it on the chin and move on. We are all experienced enough that if you lose, you know there's going to be criticism and it's about how you deal with that.

"With the type of players and characters we have, I don't think that's going to be an issue.

"It's a good night and a good performance and something we can build on.

"Winning was the most important thing. It was a massive challenge because we are relatively new together, we are still trying to gel and I think we're doing a good job.

"But they had a number of really good internationals, it was a massive challenge. I think we came through pretty well.

"But we won't fool ourselves. We know there is stuff we can work on."

Crusaders: Israel Dagg; Seta Tamanivalu; Jack Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge (Tim Bateman, 66); Richie Mo'unga (Mitchell Hunt, 74), Bryn Hall (Mitchell Drummond, 62); Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett, 51), Codie Taylor (Ben Funnell, 51), Owen Franks (Mike Alaalatoa, 51); Luke Romano (Quinten Strange, (56), Sam Whitelock; Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Matt Todd (Jed Brown, 62); Jordan Taufua.

British and Irish Lions: Stuart Hogg (Anthony Watson, 20); George North, Jonathan Davies (Jonathan Sexton, 29), Ben Te'o, Liam Williams; Owen Farrell, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath, 62), Jamie George (Ken Owens, 66), Tadhg Furlong (Dan Cole, 66); Alun Wyn Jones, George Kruis (Maro Itoje, 62); Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien (CJ Stander 56), Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements not used: Rhys Webb

Referee: Mathieu Raynal.

Belfast Telegraph

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