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Gatland Jr bets on more 'Warrenball'

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 2/06/2017 Angelo Risso

The son of British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland and provincial Barbarians first-five, Bryn, has tipped his father to stick with his tried-and-true "Warrenball" tactics in this year's 10-match tour of New Zealand.

Father and son will go head to head in Saturday's tour opener in Whangarei, as an experienced Lions side - including Test captain Sam Warburton and home union skippers Rory Best, Greig Laidlaw and Alun Wyn Jones - look to rack up a score against the Baabaas.

Gatland's teams - including his Wales outfit and 2013 Lions side - have traditionally played in a similar fashion, using big midfield ball-runners to crash beyond the gainline.

Known colloquially as Warrenball in the northern hemisphere, the system also involves ultra-quick defensive line speed and precision from the tee.

It's a game plan 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 proficient running-rugby opponents in New Zealand.

Nevertheless, Gatland Jr expected the Lions to stick with the brawny approach against his Baabaas side - made clear by the inclusion of second-five Ben Te'o.

"He's got his style of rugby that he likes to play and he's implemented that in a few teams he's coached over the past," Gatland Jr said.

"I don't think that'll be any different on Saturday, or the next few weeks.

"(But) I'm sure he'll have a few things up his sleeve."

In stark contrast to Warrenball, the Baabaas have pledged to honour their traditional champagne-rugby roots in Northland, despite Gatland Jr's kick-heavy style.

The 22-year-old North Harbour ace said he was keen to unleash a hitherto-unseen flair game on the Lions, as the Baabaas attack looks to gel at short notice.

But he certainly wasn't expecting any tips or favours from Dad, who has chosen iconic Irish No.10 Johnny Sexton opposite him in the red jumper.

"It's quite hard as a first-five to lead a team that's come together for just a week and try and do structure, so it's going to be a bit of a free-for-all," Gatland Jr said.

"Some people would say I'm more of a kicking-distributing-control No.10, but I'm just really looking forward to this chance to express myself and let some other players loose."

Having spent plenty of time with Gatland Jr in Welsh training camps since 2009, Lions skipper Warburton admitted to knowing a fair bit about the first-five.

He said he'd done his homework ahead of Saturday's clash, including watching Gatland Jr's performance for North Harbour in last year's provincial championship final win over Otago, where he kicked a late-drop goal to secure a 17-14 victory.

"I think you've got to give him a lot of credit for that - and he's obviously in a good bloodline as well, so looking forward to coming up against him," Warburton said.

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