Belfast Telegraph

Steve Hansen fuels fire with dig at 'desperate' Lions coach Warren Gatland

 

By Jonathan Bradley

The war of words between the Lions and All Blacks took an odd twist yesterday as Kiwi coach Steve Hansen phoned into a local radio station to brand his counterpart "desperate" and "predictable".

Warren Gatland had used his Sunday media briefing to blast their hosts' tactics, specifically with regards to the targeting of Conor Murray's standing leg in the split seconds after a box kick.

Neither Jaco Peyper, the South African who also refereed Ireland's ill-tempered second meeting with the World champions back in November, or his citing commissioner took any action at the time, with one incident in the 10th minute involving a diving Jerome Kaino looking to be the most damning.

As Murray's Irish half-back partner Johnny Sexton can attest, the opposition will always look to dish out some physical treatment to key figures, but Gatland claimed the All Blacks overstepped the mark and risked ruining the Munsterman's career.

"It's a little bit tough when you see someone dive at someone's leg," he said. "I thought that was a little bit dangerous. After he's kicked he's been pushed to the ground a few times.

"It's just a case of making sure he's being looked after and protected and not harassed after he's box kicked. We will probably get some clarity from the referee later in the week.

"You feel for the player, and it's concerning that they're not trying to charge the kick down because they're nowhere near it, they're diving blindly and hitting someone's leg.

"It's just a safety issue for me. I'd hate to see someone dive at his leg and have him blow a knee and then wreck his rugby career."

Gatland's comments were rooted in concern for his player, who has endured this sort of treatment in the past.

Whatever about the late shoves, the incident where Jerome Kaino hurled himself at Murray's standing leg early in the first-half demands further investigation.

When Glasgow came at him with a similar tactic in January, Murray went public with his fury.

"I'm properly p****d off about that," he said.

"I don't see any benefit in charging down someone's standing leg, I only see it as a danger or as a potential to get injured.

"Luckily my leg came out of the ground and I managed to fall over, but if my leg stayed in the ground you're looking at syndesmosis, you're looking at the cruciate (ligament).

"I'm not blaming the players. I don't know who told them to do it, but it's very dangerous.

"Thankfully I didn't get injured. They're the only team I've come across that did it."

Gatland's comments seemed fair enough, but Hansen doesn't take kindly to his players being accused of foul play.

He bristled when the Irish public and media questioned his team's overly physical approach in November, and Gatland's suggestion of impropriety did not go down well.

With Hansen, who has not been shy of lobbing a verbal grenade in Gatland's direction over the course of this tour, not due to face either local or visiting scribes again until his team announcement for the second Test, he used a spot on Radio Sport to fire back.

"It's predictable comments from Gatland, isn't it?" he told the station.

"Two weeks ago we cheated in the scrums, last week it was blocking, and now he's saying this. It's really, really disappointing to hear it because what he's implying is we're intentionally going out to injure somebody.

"That's not the case. We've never been like that, and as a New Zealander I'd expect him to know the New Zealand psyche that it's not about intentionally trying to hurt anybody, it's about playing hard and fair.

"He's implying that we're trying to hurt the guy.

"Rugby is about playing within the laws, and in this case we're trying to charge the kick down and/or tackle him. Both those things are legal.

"That's what the game is built around. Just because he (Murray) is one of their key players, it doesn't mean to say that he has the right to go around the park without being charged down or tackled.

"I guess he (Gatland) might be a bit desperate, I'm not sure. I don't know why he'd be saying it."

To the point that Gatland would be taking the issue to Jerome Garces, who will take charge of this weekend's second Test, Hansen countered: "I wouldn't expect it to be a topic of conversation with the officials because it wasn't in the game.

"There is a guy who is watching for foul play all the time and if he thought it was foul play he would indicate it to the referee in the course of the 80 minutes.

"It never was and it never will be as long as I'm involved with the All Blacks."

Unsurprisingly, players and coaches put forward for media duties yesterday did their best to sidestep the issue, but shots had been fired once again.

It may be a sideshow to the on-field battle, but it is likely to dominate the agenda once again as Gatland is due to speak after this morning's game against the Hurricanes.

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