British and Irish Lions head coach Gatland hits out at criticism of 'Warrenball'

 
Ross McLean
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Gatland led the Lions to a 2-1 series victory against Australia in 2013 (Source: Getty)

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has launched a robust defence of his coaching style and hit back at critics who claimed his teams play one-dimensional rugby.

Gatland has faced a similar critique since taking charge of Wales, while former England attack coach Brian Smith coined the phrase “Warrenball” to describe the New Zealander’s perceived reliance upon a confrontational and direct game-plan.

As the Lions prepare for their second tour match against the Blues at Eden Park in Auckland on Wednesday, Gatland has taken exception to the latest round of opinions regarding his tactics.

“What do you mean by one way” When did that start? You don’t know the answer to that do you?” said Gatland. “Was it when we were successful as Wasps or when I was coaching Waikato in the Air New Zealand Cup?

“Look, a few years ago Brian Smith coined a phrase ‘Warrenball’ and I don’t know whether that was because he was jealous of how much success we had.

“We had a group of players who came through Wales at the time who ended up being pretty big physical players. The modern game of rugby is about getting across the gainline, trying to get front-foot ball and playing to space if that is possible.”

Gatland’s team selection was also denounced prior to the Lions series-clinching victory against Australia in 2013.

“Four years ago people decided to be critical, and a lot of people got caught with their pants down afterwards.”

Gatland, meanwhile, has named a fully-altered starting XV for the clash with the Blues, who will have eight All Blacks in their ranks, as they look to improve upon their narrow 13-7 victory against the Provincial Barbarians on Saturday.

Wales hooker Ken Owens has been installed as captain, while his international team-mates Rhys Webb and Dan Bigger are set to feature at scrum-half and fly-half respectively.

Owens will be flanked on the front-row by Jack McGrath and Dan Cole, while England duo Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes are in at lock and James Haskell, Justin Tipuric and CJ Stander make up the back-row.

Read more: Maro Itoje exclusive: Modest megastar of world rugby

Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will form an all-Irish midfield with Gatland opting for Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell and three-time tourist Leigh Halfpenny in his back three.

“To match the All Blacks we have to display a bit of X-factor, and the players are being encouraged to do that, because that’s what we will need to do to beat them,” added Gatland.

“We don’t want to be prescribed and we don’t want to play by numbers. These players are being encouraged to demonstrate their level of skill.

“Hopefully we can show that on Wednesday, and the players can show what they are being encouraged by the coaches to do.”

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