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Gatland irritated by 'Warrenball' jibe

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 5/06/2017 Angelo Risso

Warren Gatland. © Rex Images Warren Gatland. British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland has bristled at the suggestion his rugby sides are one-trick ponies, insisting the "Warrenball" tactics attributed to him are not set in stone.

Gatland's Wales outfit achieved much success - including the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations titles - by deploying big midfield ball-runners to crash beyond the gainline as part of a confrontational, up-the-guts plan.

It's a style that has come under siege on the British Isles in recent weeks, as local pundits and the likes of England coach Eddie Jones have publicly questioned Warrenball's suitability against Kiwi teams.

Yet Gatland didn't take kindly on Monday to suggestions, also frequently spouted by All Blacks boss Steve Hansen, that he knew no other style of gameplay.

He admitted his Lions side had been rusty in their 13-7 win over the provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on Saturday, but said his players had full license to attack and invent against the Blues on Wednesday.

"What do you mean by one way? When did that way start? You don't know the answer to that, do you?" Gatland said to a journalist.

"There's an opportunity for people to want to be critical, we experienced that four years ago (in Australia) when people decided to be critical and a lot of people got caught with their pants down afterwards, didn't they?

"The message to players is we want to play positive rugby, move the ball, shift, create chances - to match the All Blacks you've got to display a bit of X-factor.

"We don't want to be prescribed, or play by numbers."

As promised at the start of the tour, Gatland has picked a whole new starting XV for Wednesday's match at Eden Park, led by Welsh rake Ken Owens.

Owens, on his Lions debut, will have front-rowers Jack McGrath and Dan Cole on either side of him, backed up by English back-rowers Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes.

It's not the only long-standing pairing Gatland has called upon, with Welshmen Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar chosen in the halves and Irishmen Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne - the latter born in New Zealand - in midfield.

Welshman Leigh Halfpenny will also support Webb and Biggar from fullback.

It was no accident on Gatland's behalf, as he prepares his side for increasingly difficult matches and Tests on the Shaky Isles.

"That's what you're trying to do, you know you've only got limited preparation time so you're trying to put out the strongest side you possibly can and trying to marry together some familiar combinations," Gatland said.

"It makes it a little easier for the squad to gel.

"(It's) a completely new starting XV for Wednesday, and they get a chance to go out there and make a statement."

British and Irish Lions: Leigh Halfpenny, Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly, Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, James Haskell, Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, Dan Cole, Ken Owens (c), Jack McGrath. RESERVES: Rory Best, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Iain Henderson, Peter O'Mahony, Greig Laidlaw, Johnny Sexton, Liam Williams.

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