Warburton returns to Lions lineup for Highlanders match

Warren Gatland hit back at his critics after the British and Irish Lions ground past the Crusaders 12-3 to ignite their New Zealand tour.

"I see it as I'm tour captain, and if I've made the Test then that would be a bonus for me, but I've said there's three Tests to get selected for so it's not the be-all and end-all with the first one".

Warren Gatland's Lions had been under huge pressure after a mediocre start to their 10-match tour, with an unconvincing 13-7 victory over the Provincial Barbarians and a 22-16 loss to the Auckland Blues on Wednesday.

"At this stage of the Tour everyone has had a start and as coaches we are happy that all the players have had a chance to put their hand up and perform in the Lions jersey", he said. The Lions dominated possession, held it for long periods and advanced the ball through the outstanding ball-carrying of players such as prop Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Peter O'Mahony and the replacement C.J. Stander.

"I think he's got some bonuses out of it that he probably didn't expect with Jonathan Davies coming on and seeing [Owen] Farrell and [Johnny] Sexton work together".

Murray, in his first start for the Lions on their 2017 tour, was hugely influential in the pivotal scrum-half berth, kicking intelligently and accurately, while his passing was sharp and crisp. Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, George Kruis and Taulupe Faletau are four men nearly certain to begin the Test opener with the All Blacks.

But it was the massive performance by the Lions in the defense that decided the match and will have brought most pleasure to the Lions.

The Lions still won comfortably and it proved that if you can stop New Zealand teams playing a loose type of game and frustrate them, as Ireland did in Chicago, they are vulnerable.

Jones was also unimpressed with the poor finishing by the outside backs. For example, over the last couple of training sessions, we're having 13 on the field and you're having a captain's run, so there's not much you can do in the captain's run. They are going to get better for that game.

Stuart Hogg remains the Lions' main injury concern pending an examination by a specialist into the facial injury he suffered as a result of a collision with Conor Murray 20 minutes into last Saturday's meeting with the Crusaders. The Crusaders let themselves down with poor handling in slippery conditions and a lack of discipline.

That's the beauty of rugby, that not all teams play the same.

'We'll just wait for the outcome but at this point in time we've got a big squad and a lot of people in place to cover different positions.

Gatland praised the defensive performance of the Lions.

"We had a laugh and giggle about it but I definitely owe him one".

Taylor says having played under Raynal will be of benefit, with two other French whistleblowers - Jerome Garces and Romain Poite - to control the second and third Tests.

Farrell also spoke of the components that helped get the Lions over the line in Christchurch.

  • Julie Sanders