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Lions and All Blacks ignore niggle factor

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 29/06/2017 Daniel Gilhooly

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Like sledging in cricket, off-the-ball niggle in Test rugby is part of the furniture and should be accepted by referees and pundits.

That's the view of key figures within both the British and Irish Lions and the All Blacks ahead of what shapes as a hugely physical second Test on Saturday.

Forecast rain for Wellington is expected to turn the Test into trench warfare.

Trailing 1-0, the Lions have talked repeatedly about the need to be more combative than in the 30-15 loss in Auckland.

British and Irish Lions' Sam Warburton and New Zealand's Kieran Read lift the Series Trophy after the series is drawn during the third test of the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour at Eden Park, Auckland In pics: Lions tour of New Zealand Captain Sam Warburton believes his team were distinctly second-best there, including in the off-the-ball exchanges, when psychological points can be won.

"I've probably played almost 200 games of professional rugby and that happens every single game you play in," Warburton said.

"Stuff off the ball goes on. People try to get into each other, whether at ruck time or mauls.

"It's the little mental edges that players like to get over each other."

Warburton said the All Blacks clearly targeted halfback Conor Murray but kept it just inside the laws with pushes and nudges after his box kicks.

Warburton didn't adopt the same line as Lions coach Warren Gatland, who said the hosts deliberately set out to injure the influential halfback.

"We should look after him better as a forward pack. Referees can't see everything and you just accept that as players," the skipper said.

"That's all part of the psychological battle.

"I've spoken to most of the Kiwi guys, they are a great bunch of lads and no one's taking anything personally."

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen brushed aside further talk about Murray.

He also didn't want to know about footage which has emerged reportedly showing Lions prop Mako Vunipola's role in questionable off-the-ball incidents involving All Blacks Anton Lienert-Brown and Owen Franks.

Hansen put faith in match officials and citing officers to pinpoint foul play.

Anything that doesn't reach that threshold should be written off as part of Test rugby, he said.

"Rugby's a big boy's game played by big boys and people with character," Hansen said.

"There's no point dragging stuff up. If you thought something was intentional, there are guys doing the job of making the game a lot cleaner than it was in yesteryear.

"A lot of things happen in the heat of the moment and they're definitely not intentional. Move on from it."

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