Lions tour: Warren Gatland defends decision not to use bench against Hurricanes
Warren Gatland has defended his decision not to use his bench as the flagging British and Irish Lions clung on to draw 31-31 with the Hurricanes in their tour's final midweek match in Wellington.
A scrappy game burst to life in the second spell as the Super Rugby defending champions fought back from a 16-point halftime deficit, dominating the closing stages when they had a one-man advantage.
A yellow card shown to Irish lock Iain Henderson in the 65th minute was critical as the hosts ran in two rapid tries to level the scores.
While the Hurricanes benefited from their reserves over the closing stages, Gatland steadfastly refused to use any of the six players brought in midway through the tour, effectively as ballast.
All six stayed on the bench in last week's midweek defeat of the Chiefs and it was the same on Tuesday as Gatland introduced just Leigh Halfpenny and George Kruis - both original tour selections.
Gatland was widely criticised for tarnishing the Lions brand when he unveiled the additional players - four from Wales and two from Scotland - effectively to shield Test players from having to play midweek.
He revealed coaching staff had bowed to criticism and decided the newcomers would only play in the event of injury.
"So much was made about devaluing the jersey that we made the decision we would just try and get through the game with as many of the 15 as we could," he said.
"I can understand people's views."
The Lions managed one win from their four midweek matches, with losses to the Blues and Highlanders also notable for sluggish finishes.
Gatland demanded physicality from any forwards with Test ambition and believes he got it from some, singling out locks Henderson and Courtney Lawes as standouts.
The pair are both possible additions to the team beaten 30-15 in the first Test for the second in Wellington on Saturday.
Henderson blotted his copybook with his sin-binning for a tip tackle on Hurricanes fullback Jordie Barrett.
Tries followed quickly to reserve back Wes Goosen and rampaging flanker Vaea Fifita to level the scores.
The Hurricanes scored four tries to three but 16 points to first five-eighth Dan Biggar kept the Lions in front for 70 minutes.
Impatience and the concession of seven of the first eight penalties dished out by French referee Roman Poite left the hosts bereft of early opportunities.
Biggar landed three penalties and converted tries to wingers Tommy Seymour and George North to push his team 23-7 clear at halftime.
The Hurricanes' lone first-half try went to burrowing flanker Callum Gibbins but they broke through soon after the break when the impressive Ngani Laumape finished a searing break from dumped Test winger Julian Savea.
Momentum was halted when Hurricanes halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi was shown a yellow card for his team's persistent offending.
The extra space was exploited soon afterwards when Seymour crossed in the corner for his second try to push the Lions 31-17 clear.