British and Irish Lions 2017: Warren Gatland doesn't believe Blues are far off level of All Blacks after first defeat

Gatland was not too concerned with defeat after seeing an improved performance from the Lions

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The Independent Online

Warren Gatland does not expect the All Blacks to be much better than the Blues side that beat the British and Irish Lions 22-16 at Eden Park on Wednesday, and admitted he was not too disappointed despite losing their second warm-up match on the tour of New Zealand.

After being pushed close by the Provincial Barbarians at the weekend, the Lions were undone by a moment of magic from Steven Luatua and Sonny Bill Williams to send Ihaia West over to secure a famous victory in front of more than 40,000 fans.

Gatland refused to panic after the match, having also lost a midweek game in 2013 – although that loss came between the first and second Test against the Brumbies – and took the positives out of the improved performance to stress that his side will be able to compete with the All Blacks as there will not be a great deal of difference between the national side and the five Super Rugby teams that the Lions will face.

“There is so much strength in depth in this country I don’t think there is going to be a lot of difference between some of the Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks,” Gatland said. “These guys have been together for seven months and the All Blacks are coming together cold.

“We have played a lot better tonight. We have put ourselves in a position to win the game. You can take a lot of positives from that and you can take a lot of things in your control that you can change and improve. Saturday is going to be another tough encounter but those players will have been together and gelled for that little bit longer and so I expect to see an improvement from tonight’s performance again on Saturday.”

The Lions lost Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb and Jared Payne to injury in the defeat, although Gatland confirmed that all three are small setbacks and did not expect to keep them out for the long run, and the head coach believes that these tougher warm-up matches will only help with their preparation ahead of the three Test series against the All Blacks.

“Generally we did that really well, I thought our line speed defensively coped with that,” he added. “It was a moment of magic which you do get from New Zealand teams.  

Ihaia West celebrates as he scores the match-winning try (Getty)

“I am happy that there is an improvement. I am disappointed that we lost the game obviously. But the thing about playing these quality sides – we talk about the Test match series and the preparation and go back to 2013 when we won the first game against the Barbarians and we won 70 and we won the next game against Western Force by 60 and it wasn’t great preparation for the Test matches.”

One player who featured predominantly in taking down the Lions proved to be Williams, with the inside centre scoring the Blues’ second try and setting up the match-winner six minutes from time.

That is only going to continue so we have to be a little bit better in stopping the 
Warren Gatland

Williams is now likely to play the Lions again in three weeks’ time after putting himself in the frame to take the All Blacks No 12 shirt, which will give Gatland plenty of food for thought. Williams’ ability to offload in the tackle was on full display in Auckland, and if the Lions are going to have any chance of beating New Zealand, they will need to find a way to contain him and his ability to pass to teammates at all times.

“They have started off well and got themselves in front and we got ourselves back into the game and got in front, Gatland added. “Obviously the try on half-time was disappointing and to get ourselves in front and concede a try – let’s taking nothing away from the try Ihaia West scored and the offloading of New Zealand teams and that is only going to continue so we have to be a little bit better in stopping the offloading game.”