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Gatland: Lions took a step back against Highlanders

Associated Press logo Associated Press 13/06/2017 Steve McMorran

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British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland said his team had "taken a little bit of a step back" when it was beaten 23-22 by the Dunedin-based Highlanders on Tuesday in the fourth match of its New Zealand tour.

Gatland conceded the Lions had given up some of the momentum that they had gained with their 12-3 win over the Crusaders last weekend when they lost to a Highlanders lineup missing nine of its Super Rugby regulars.

He said discipline, particularly late in the second half, and difficulty in coping with the Highlanders' kicking game led to a defeat in Dunedin which leaves the Lions with two wins and two losses after four games.

The score was level 10-10 at halftime and the Loins led 22-13 in the second half.

"We've got ourselves in front and the boys say they were reasonably comfortable," Gatland said. "But there were some big moments we didn't nail and we've allowed them back into the match."

Highlanders players celebrate a try as British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton reacts during their game in Dunedin, New Zealand, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. The Highlanders defeated the Lions 23-22. (Brett Phibbs/New Zealand Herald via AP) © Brett Phibbs/New Zealand Herald via AP Highlanders players celebrate a try as British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton reacts during their game in Dunedin, New Zealand, Tuesday, June 13, 2017. The Highlanders defeated the Lions 23-22. (Brett Phibbs/New Zealand Herald via AP) The Lions missed a late shot at goal and Marty Banks landed his match-winning penalty for the Highlanders with seven minutes remaining, "and that's the difference between the two teams," Gatland said.

The Highlanders played the game at a dizzying pace which at times seemed to stretch the Lions, though the tourists also produced their best attacking play of the tour in scoring three tries to two.

Center Jonathan Joseph and winger Tommy Seymour scored good backline tries — Joseph's from a set piece and Seymour's from a kick return — while captain Sam Warburton showed his recovery from an ankle injury with a try from a powerful piece of forward play.

Warburton's try lifted the Lions to a nine-point lead but they were unable to hold out the Highlanders, who scored tries through All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo and hooker Liam Coltman. Naholo looked back to his best form after recent injuries.

"I think some of their kicking game was what caused us pressure, not so much the running game," Gatland said. "They were good in the air, they got results from putting kicks behind us and we've got guys who are normally very good in that situation.

"We felt at halftime we'd probably played too much rugby between the 10-meter lines, hadn't got front-foot ball and needed to play a bit more territory. That was something we tried to rectify going into the second half and I thought when we got quality ball on the front foot that's when we looked dangerous."

Gatland will likely name a test-strength lineup to face the New Zealand Maori on Saturday and said the Lions have to bring together the best aspects of their form so far.

"We have to get a bit of a match between playing hard and playing smartly," he said. "I thought we looked good against the Crusaders and tonight we've taken a little bit of a step back."

Tommy Seymour of the Lions, and Sam Lousi of the Hurricanes compete for a high ball during the 2017 British & Irish Lions tour match between the Hurricanes and the British & Irish Lions at the Westpac Stadium on June 27, 2017 in Wellington, New Zealand. In pics: Lions tour of New Zealand
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