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Warren Gatland urges officials to crack down on All Blacks’ illegal blocking

The Guardian logo The Guardian 18/06/2017 Robert Kitson in Hamilton
Warren Gatland (left) and his assistant coach Graham Rowntree are hoping Tour referees pick up on and penalise illegal tactics from the All Blacks. © Paul Greenwood/Rex/Shutterstock Warren Gatland (left) and his assistant coach Graham Rowntree are hoping Tour referees pick up on and penalise illegal tactics from the All Blacks.

Warren Gatland has raised the stakes before the forthcoming Test series by urging officials to crack down on illegal blocking tactics by New Zealand players.

Gatland says members of his British & Irish Lions squad are repeatedly being held or pulled back off the ball and has raised the issue with Jaco Peyper, who is due to referee the first Test in Auckland.

'Call ups devalue Lions status' (Sky Sports)

With the touring side’s spirits boosted by a commanding 32-10 win against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday, Gatland alleges the Lions are being deliberately targeted and wants Peyper and his assistants to keep an eye out for any sharp practice by the All Blacks on Saturday. “The frustrating thing for us is the amount of blocking that’s going on,” said Gatland, who will have a meeting with the South African official on Friday. “It makes it difficult to complete attacking opportunities because there is so much happening off the ball in terms of holding players or subtly holding players.

“We’ve raised it with the ref already. If you listen to the ref’s mic they were talking about it constantly through the game [on Saturday] and gave us a couple of penalties for blocking. It’s one of the hardest things to pick up because it tends to happen quite a long way off the ball. We’ll keep raising it, because it was picked up on a couple of occasions last night they stopped doing it as much. That made it a lot easier for us to get up in the air and to compete. In a couple of games we haven’t been able to get up in the air because there has been that interference.”

Up to now the Lions have been on the receiving end of persistent criticism of their scrummaging, their style of play and perceived splits in the camp. Gatland has been touched by the warm welcome his team have received from the majority of New Zealanders but has no wish to see a potentially decisive Test shaped by cynical on-field acts.

“When you go back and look at the tapes and look at the stuff off the ball, some of it is very subtle. All New Zealand teams at the moment are doing it. We’ve just got to handle that and hope the refs, the assistant referees and the TMOs pick up what’s going on.

“All I am asking is the officials are aware of it and look at it. If the referees pick up teams for that, that would be good. A few years ago people weren’t quite so subtle. They’re very, very subtle now.”

Gatland, back in familiar surroundings in his native city, has also confirmed Owen Farrell will be fit and available for selection for Eden Park, with the tour captain, Sam Warburton, and the centre Jonathan Joseph also in contention for the Test 23 after being omitted from the midweek squad to face the Chiefs on Tuesday.

Farrell has been cleared to resume full training and appears certain to feature against the All Blacks. “He could have played on Saturday,” Gatland said. “If it was a Test match he would have played. We just made a decision that it wasn’t worth taking that risk. I’ve no doubt he will be 100% fit for the first Test.”

While Johnny Sexton had an influential game at 10 against the Maori, Gatland has given absolutely no indication he is planning to start the Irishman and Farrell together as a 10-12 pairing. Maro Itoje, meanwhile, looks likely to earn the nod in the second row ahead of Alun Wyn Jones. “There’s no doubt there’s some pressure on certain players and certain combinations have gone well,” the head coach said.

The Welsh winger George North is not yet assured of a starting place, however, with Gatland making clear the back three remains an area of selectorial concern. “We know what potential George has but he hasn’t quite fulfilled that at the moment,” Gatland said. “We are going to have some quite lengthy debates in terms of finalising that back three.”

The six additional squad players from Wales and Scotland called up as cover by Gatland over the weekend have all been named on the bench for Tuesday’s game.


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