The British and Irish Lions insist they haven’t gifted All Black Sonny Bill Williams a saloon passage over the gain line by dropping Ben Te’o for the second Test.
Lions coach Warren Gatland delivered a major tactical statement for Saturday’s Test in Wellington by demoting Kiwi-born hard man Te’o to the reserves bench and starting with twin pivots.
Ireland first five-eighth Johnny Sexton pushes Owen Farrell out a spot, with both boasting kicking and tactical skills to attack the All Blacks in a multi-faceted way.
Moments after announcing his team, Gatland raised eyebrows with his assessment of Williams, who waged a tough advantage line with his former NRL sparring partner Te’o.
“We’ll have to do a job defensively on Sonny Bill Williams. He came pretty direct against us and got a couple of offloads,” he said, unprompted.
Gatland’s remark attracted criticism his backline now lacked the muscle to cope with the cross-code star.
The coach said a change in methods and attitude would make an important difference to last week’s rearguard against Williams in the 30-15 first Test loss in Auckland.
“We allowed him too much time on the ball,” Gatland said.
“We have to make sure our line speed in terms of stopping that”
Restored captain Sam Warburton said the Lions were guilty of letting the All Blacks get over the advantage line in the first two or three phases of their attacks, making it hard to then slow possession or win turnovers.
“It is a collision game. We have to make our first tackles count because if you can slow the ball for those first 2-3 phases, it makes the rest of the game so much easier.
“When New Zealand are so efficient and they play so quickly, you’re tired and it’s hard to get off the line to put those collisions in.”
On the subject of Te’o’s absence, All Blacks Centre Anton Lienert-Brown said Ngani Laumape’s power running for the Hurricanes against the midweek Lions hadn’t gone unnoticed.
Laumape rampaged down inside channels relentlessly, earning the uncapped midfield back a Test bench spot.
“You can learn a lot from that. Obviously that’s the strength of Ngani’s game and I guess that was in the Hurricanes’ game plan to run down that 10 channel,” Lienert-Brown said.
“With two 10s there, that’s something we could look to expose.”