‘Stop shooting ourselves in the foot’: Lions coach Warren Gatland rues mistakes as losses mount
Coach admits the performance against the Highlanders is ‘a step backwards’, blaming poor discipline that cost 12 penalties
Frustrated British & Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland says his players must stop caving under pressure at key moments after “shooting themselves in the foot” in their latest defeat.
The tourists threw away a nine-point lead to lose 23-22 to the Otago Highlanders on Tuesday, stalling momentum gained from a gutsy win over the Canterbury Crusaders.
Gatland admitted the performance was “a step backwards”, blaming poor discipline that cost 12 penalties and a lack of composure in the dying minutes.
“To be 22-13 up and feeling reasonably comfortable means it is disappointing to give it away,” he said.
“We didn’t nail a few big moments that were important. We shot ourselves in the foot with some turnovers and penalties in the last 10 minutes.
“The big learning is that New Zealand sides play for 80 minutes. The penalties really hurt us.”
While the Lions’ attack finally fired against the Highlanders – with tries to Jonathan Joseph, Tommy Seymour and captain Sam Warburton – they panicked in the face of a late comeback.
Their defence disintegrated to give Liam Coltman a pushover try, then a needless scrum infringement gifted Marty Banks a penalty to put the Highlanders ahead.
Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly also missed crucial kicks as the Lions fell short.
“We needed some strong game management to close the game down,” Gatland said.
On his second appearance on tour, Warburton scored a try and looked in decent shape. But after he and impressive scrum half Rhys Webb left the field, the Lions were a different side.
In the two games in which they have been refereed by Australian official Angus Gardner – against the Provincial Barbarians and in Dunedin – the Lions have conceded 25 penalties.
Gatland also provided more details about the injury that forced Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg out of the tour.
The Six Nations player of the tournament in each of the last two seasons suffered a fractured eye socket against the Crusaders after colliding with teammate Conor Murray.
Gatland said Hogg was warned he could lose his sight if he played on with the injury.
“It was a freak accident. Stuart is absolutely gutted and we are really feeling for him,” he said.
“He saw four specialists and one of them said he could be right in seven to 10 days, but the others said it was a reasonably serious injury with the possibility that he could lose his sight.
“We said it’s only a game of rugby and he had to get his health right. He understood that.”
Hogg’s departure means Leigh Halfpenny is now almost certain to start the test series wearing the number 15 jersey.