Lions tour: Coach Warren Gatland fires back at All Blacks counterpart after win over Maori All Blacks
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland was defiant as he took to the podium following his side's dominant 32-10 win against the Maori All Blacks, seizing the opportunity to offer his own assessment on recent comments made by counterpart Steve Hansen which he believes are "putting a dampener on the tour".
The All Blacks coach has suggested Gatland has issued a clear divide between his Test side and mid-week team, splitting the squad in two as the Test series looms closer, while also poking fun at supposed secret tactics he's yet to reveal.
According to Gatland, all that talk can only amount to one thing – the All Black coach is worried.
"I'm surprised a bit by Steve Hansen," he said after admitting to being disappointed by the tone of comments from the All Blacks camp.
"He's normally so calm and collected, but he seems to be delivering a lot of comments about us and things that he knows and doesn't know about us.
"I can only take that as a sign of respect, that's he's potentially a little bit worried."
The Wales coach laughed off the suggestion of the split in his camp, continuing with a veiled jibe at the All Blacks' own first up performance against Samoa on Friday night - a contest they won 78-0.
"They arranged a pretty quick game against Samoa, and if you saw the first 20 minutes or so last night they looked a little bit rusty – they needed that."
In terms of the performance against the Maori All Blacks, Gatland was impressed with the way his team managed the game as well as their ruthless approach, especially in the second half after going into the halftime interval with just a two point lead despite dominating play across the park.
"It's hard to get forward momentum, particularly early on in a game because everyone's so pumped up and fresh, but in the second half I think we went out there and we squeezed the life out of them.
"We got in behind them and created some opportunities and it was a pretty clinical performance."
It was a display which made for a fitting response to the All Blacks' demolition of Samoa, but Gatland claims the focus has been "all about ourselves".
"Every match is absolute quality opposition, and we're learning from those experiences and benefitting from that opposition we're playing against. It was another step-up tonight.
"In terms of the All Blacks, we'll start thinking a little bit more about them this week."
Plenty of criticism has been levelled at the tourists after their lacklustre displays in losses to the Blues and Highlanders, both arguably contests they should have ultimately won.
However, as long as the team was improving and learning through those struggles, he insists they were always prepared to live with the result.
"We've said all along it's about preparing and learning from the games warming up, but it's all about the Test series…..that's what we're here to do."
That Test series is now just seven days away, and it's clear Gatland has been hearing the doubts and criticisms loud and clear.
They're criticisms which have only served to galvanise his troops, he claims.
"We've been written off and I think that's actually bought us closer together as a group.
"The harmony and voices in the changing room, you see the guys who weren’t involved tonight on the touch line and what it means to them.
"We're very, very close, so if Steve Hansen knows what's going on from outside then he's a much better man than I am."