Lions tour: Tourists riding wave of momentum heading into Test series with All Blacks
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland believes his side is riding a small wave of momentum as the first Test against the All Blacks approaches.
The Lions put away a limp Chiefs side 34-6 in Hamilton on Tuesday, and off the back of a dominant display against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday the tourists have kick-started their campaign.
The former Waikato representative said those two wins have brought a ton of confidence into the camp ahead of three Tests against the world champions in three-weeks.
"The group went out and put in a commanding performance and in the changing room everyone recognizes just what it meant to win back to back games," Gatland said.
After two midweek losses to the Blues and Highlanders respectively, Gatland said it was not only important for that squad's state of mind heading into what awaits them, but for the players involved in the earlier loses, it was a must-win game.
"The players had spoken of the disappointment of being ahead after 70 minutes of both those games.
"The result tonight was the first priority with the performance coming after that.
"I think we got a little bit of both against the Chiefs, so I was pretty happy about that."
The tourists looked noticeably more clinical on attack, scoring two outstanding second-half tries including a 90-metre effort that involved nine players, and a brilliant piece of counter-attack rugby that resulted in a five-pointer for centre Jared Payne.
Gatland noted that he always felt their flare would come with time.
“When you are putting a new team together with new combinations it takes time. We knew we had been creating chances but hadn’t been finishing them off.
"The try that Jared Payne got was outstanding. It's pleasing that we are now finishing a few of those opportunities."
What hasn’t been in question during the first three-week of the Lions visit, has been their outstanding defence, leaking just seven-tries in seven-games with just one coming in the last 160 minutes.
Gatland feels that they are managing to strangle the attacking prowess of their New Zealand opposition but he acknowledges a different type of beast will be staring them down on Saturday night.
"We are getting stronger and stronger, and against the best attacking sides in world rugby who score multiple tries week in and week out.
"Saturday we are up against the best attacking side in the world at a venue they haven’t lost at since 1994 – it’s going to be a completely new level for us to be tested at."
As for the selection of his 23 that will face-off with the Steve Hansen’s mob, Gatland said that he and his other selectors will talk through their options on Wednesday before announcing the squad on Thursday night.
The 53-year-old said it will be a group decision on any contentious selections.
"There will be some lively debate and discussion and then once a decision is made collectively then I’m sure we all agree on that 100 per cent.
"It will be all of us contributing and having a voice and an opinion."
With four games remaining, three of them Test matches, the tourists have three wins and two losses.
Many pundits didn’t give his squad much hope of winning much more than the opening run-out against a New Zealand Barbarians side which featured only a handful of Super Rugby caps.
Gatland said he is pleased at how the side has tracked on what he describes as the toughest tour in Lions history.
"We always said that how tough this tour is. It’s not like previous tours where the midweek games are against much lesser opposition.
"This is unlike anything that has been done before and we did say if we lost a couple of the non-Test matches it wouldn’t be the end of the world.
"I think we have got better the longer we have had time together and experiencing the opposition and New Zealand rugby and I think we have achieved that so far."
The Lions have one remaining midweek match, against the Hurricanes in Wellington next Tuesday.