British and Irish Lions 2017: James Haskell has no concerns over call-ups despite backlash against Warren Gatland

The arrival of six new players in the Lions squad has not caused a split in the squad, despite what All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has said

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The new additions to the British and Irish Lions squad has not disrupted the harmony among the players, despite widespread criticism of Warren Gatland’s decision to bring in reinforcements for Tuesday’s clash with the Chiefs by leading names in rugby.

The former Lions head coach Sir Ian McGeechan, who led the team in 2009 with Gatland as one of his assistants, admitted that the addition of four Welsh players and two Scots based on their location “does not quite sit right with me”, while former Lions representative Jonathan Davies labelled Joe Launchbury’s omission “a disgrace”.

Gtaland chose to bring Wales forwards Tomas Francis, Kristian Dacey and Cory Hill along with scrum-half Gareth Davies due to the fact that the national team were already in Auckland on their summer tour, while Finn Russell and Allan Dell have been brought in from the Scotland team in Australia despite the likes of Launchbury, Dylan Hartley, Devin Toner and Danny Care being more obvious call-ups from the England and Ireland squads.

Lions video diary previews final game before first test

It led All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen to claim that a “split” has developed in the Lions squad, only for Gatland to completely dismiss his fellow Kiwi’s comments, and Haskell has insisted that the squad do not take notice of the things that are happening off the pitch as they have a big enough task lying ahead of them.

“When the ball is rolling and you are in the mix, you don’t really worry too much about those kind of things,” said Haskell on Monday. “You have got team-mates coming on board, who are buying into what the Lions is about. When they are asked to train, they train as hard as they can and when asked to make account of themselves and deliver a performance they do that. That’s what really matters.

“The politics of situations like that, being a professional rugby player, you can out your head down and just crack on with the job. Life is way too short to be worrying about other things and stuff like that.

“You bring guys in, that was always the plan, they are good boys, get on with it. That’s all that matters and make the most of it and let you lot worry about all that.”

All six of the call-ups will be among the replacements for Tuesday’s final warm-up match against the Chiefs, which offers the players one last tune-up before meeting the All Blacks on Saturday. Haskell will make his third start of the tour with the Lions yet to get a win on the board during the mid-week games.

Having put 32 points past the Maori All Blacks at the weekend, the most that the Lions have managed since they began touring New Zealand, the 23 that have been selected for the Chiefs encounter have been tasked with continuing the momentum generated form the win in Rotorua, and Haskell understands that the players who featured in the previous losses to the Blues and Highlanders must up their game this week.

“If we look at the Blues and Highlanders games, did we deliver, did we have control? The answer is probably not. Did we learn from it? Yes,” said Haskell.

“The Chiefs are going to run it from everywhere, take their quick throws, we just play our game with intensity and energy and the result will go our way.”

Haskell wants to leave the Lions jersey in a better place than when he received it (Getty)

The problem for Haskell and the 14 other names that start against the Chiefs is that they face an uphill battle to force their way into the Test side, given the first encounter with the All Blacks comes just four days after this match. However, Haskell stressed that they must put the first test out of their minds and give Tuesday their all, otherwise they will be doing the real disservice to the Lions shirt.

“Every time you put on that Lions shirt you have to leave it in a better place than you found it. You have to put everything out there,” said the Wasps flanker. “There is no point trying to save yourself. You have to run yourself into the ground every single game.

It’s like a giant family and everyone is pulling in the right direction

James Haskell

“Sometimes when you are involved in teams they talk about the squad and it can be a bit of lip service, but on this tour it really is about that. We have trained together the entire time, we have lived and breathed everything, the disappointments, the successes together.

“It’s like a giant family and everyone is pulling in the right direction.

“It’s important we put everything out there against the Chiefs to make sure the boys go into the Test match with another win and real positivity.”