Lions tour: Coach Warren Gatland fires back at Lions critics after Crusaders win
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland has taken a sarcastic swipe at critics who prematurely wrote off his team's chances on their tour of New Zealand.
Fears the Lions will be Test pushovers were squashed with a muscular 12-3 defeat of the Crusaders in Christchurch, squeezing the life out of a team who have swept all before them in Super Rugby.
The tourists played with a mixture of power and precision in a try-less affair to hand the Crusaders their first loss of 2017.
A ferocious forward contest was edged by the Lions, who also kicked with greater accuracy and defended robustly.
It was the perfect recipe in freezing, slippery conditions.
It was also the performance the Lions needed, advancing considerably on their scratchy tour-opening win over the Provincial Barbarians and Wednesday's loss to the Blues.
Gatland wasn't getting carried away with a performance he says still leaves ample room to improve, two weeks out from the first Test against the All Blacks.
However, he noted it was an ideal response to what he says has been unseemly criticism of his team, something that was testing the patience of players and management.
"People had written the tour off after two games," Gatland said.
"That's a big challenge for all of us, to stay strong within the group and keep the faith.
"The goal is the Test matches.
"I hope we didn't disappoint too many people tonight with the result."
First five-eighth Owen Farrell slotted four penalties, including three in the first half.
The Lions led 9-3 at the break, with Farrell's opposite Richie Mo'unga having slotted his team's only points via a penalty.
The Crusaders botched early lineouts and ran foul of the scrum interpretations of French referee Mathieu Raynal.
It helped the tourists dominate possession and largely dictate the pace of a stop-start game.
The hosts twice turned down kickable penalty shots late in the first half to launch attacking lineouts, both of which were repelled.
They rarely threatened to breach a staunch Lions line after the break, with the tourists going closest to scoring from several breakouts, only to be let down by handling mistakes.
The defence was highlighted by Gatland.
"The threat of New Zealand sides is their off-loading," he said.
"Some of our line speed was excellent and that's just time together.
"We're up against the most creative team in Super Rugby at the moment and they didn't create a lot of chances."
Several Lions gave their Test selection hopes a boost, most notably Farrell and Irish halfback Connor Murray, whose towering box kicks created constant problems.
Farrell played more than half of the game in the midfield after Jonathan Davies was replaced by first five-eighth Jonathan Sexton.
There is concern over the fitness of Welsh centre Davies and Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg, with Gatland confirming both had stayed off after failing concussion tests.
Several Lions forwards stood tall, most notably English prop Mako Vunipola, English lock George Kruis and Irish flanker Peter O'Mahony.
The Lions face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday, followed by the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua next Saturday.