Gatland: Lions must be bold and courageous on Saturday
Warren Gatland has challenged his Lions to be ‘bold and courageous’ against the All Blacks after unveiling his matchday 23 for the first Test in Auckland.
“We know we have got to be courageous coming here, we’ve got to be bold and play some positive rugby.”
Peter O’Mahony will captain the side from the back row while Liam Williams and Elliot Daly are rewarded for bright showings on Tuesday against the Chiefs with starts in the back three.
After a slow start the to the Tour of New Zealand, the Lions will arrive at Eden Park on Saturday full of confidence with impressive wins over the Crusaders, Maori All Blacks and then Tuesday’s victory in Hamilton under their belts.
And while their set-piece dominance was in full effect against both the Crusaders and the Maori – they started to turn on the style against the Chiefs in attack and Gatland wants to see more of the same on the weekend.
“The message to the players before we came out to New Zealand was that to play the All Blacks you have to be bold and take risks,” he said.
“Yes we are playing to a structure as every team does, but we have been giving the confidence to the players to bring in an offloading game when it’s appropriate.
“We have seen some development and improvement on that and there were a couple of nice examples on Tuesday night of that coming together. We know we have got to be courageous coming here, we’ve got to be bold and play some positive rugby.
“We feel our setpiece is getting better from game to game and we’ve improved defensively.
“We just need to bring that other element into the game, which is playing with some flair, taking some risks and being courageous and bold.
“We’ve got to be alive for 80 minutes. We know there are periods in the game where they seem to almost lull and then they get one opportunity and they just ignite and that’s when they are most dangerous. So we’ve just got to stay alive for every moment. It will be a high tempo game, with the offloading threats. But we are excited about Saturday night and looking forward to it.”
O’Mahony will be joined in the back row by 2013 Test Lions Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau with Tour captain Sam Warburton another on the bench.
Alun Wyn Jones and Mako Vunipola are also in the pack while Conor Murray and Owen Farrell are the half-backs with Jonathan Davies in midfield.
And with all that experience and leadership in tow, skipper O’Mahony will not be short of a helping hand on Saturday.
“Peter has done a good job and he is chuffed about it. He’s lucky that he’s got a lot of experience around him,” added Gatland.
“We have been very pleased with the micro chat within the squad with players contributing to the talk, whether it’s been Sean O’Brien, Sam has been been excellent, Alun Wyn Jones and George Kruis, Owen Farrell as well, so there’s a lot of leadership within the group.
“There’s not people talking for the sake of it, there’s not white noise, it’s clarity and it’s succinct. Peter has got to concentrate on doing his job which he does well and he will get plenty of support from other players too.”
O’Mahony added: “As I said before the Maori game, it’s incredible to be picked for the Lions and then to be asked to captain them is a huge honour.
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“Now it’s down to business now and down to performance from the 23 guys that are picked. Now it’s on to the job.
“It’s a huge task obviously the calibre of player New Zealand have, their record at Eden Park is impressive. But it’s going to be a different animal at the weekend, there are going to be 20,000 odd Lions fans there. To be involved in a game of this magnitude is where all these players who have been picked want to be, challenging against the best in the world.
“There would be something seriously wrong if there wasn’t excitement the week that’s in it. There is a huge amount of energy in there.”