Lions building nicely ahead of tests - Gatland

Lions building nicely ahead of tests - Gatland
By Reuters

20/06/2017 at 11:59Updated 20/06/2017 at 12:01

WELLINGTON, June 20 (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland believes the tourists are building towards a peak at just the right time after his side cruised to a 34-6 win over the Waikato Chiefs in their sixth tour match on Tuesday.

The clinical performance came on the back of what many expect to be Gatland's preferred test team suffocating the Maori All Blacks into submission in their 32-10 victory in Rotorua on Saturday.

Gatland's side now head into the three-test series against New Zealand that starts at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday riding some momentum and with confidence building.

"The guys are pretty happy in the sheds and its great for this group of players," Gatland told reporters.

"It was a really strong performance against the Maori and we didn't want this group not winning and it was a commanding performance. We were more clinical, we squeezed them, didn't concede any tries and played some good rugby.

"I hope we are peaking at the right time. That comes from spending time together. We always felt that we would get better the longer we spent together."

Gatland's side had been under pressure a week ago following a 23-22 loss to the Otago Highlanders, and many local and British pundits had pointed out the massive difference between the performances of the midweek and weekend teams.

The former All Blacks hooker picked what is expected to be his first test side in the Maori game and they showed how ruthless they could be by controlling the ball, putting the home side under pressure and forcing mistakes.

On Tuesday, a totally different set of players responded with a similarly crushing victory against an understrength Chiefs team, who were without 10 players on national duty.

Most promising, however, was that they finally showed some attacking enterprise in the backs with Jack Nowell finishing off a sweeping 80-metre movement for his second try of the game.

Ireland centre Jared Payne also finished a brilliant break from fullback Liam Williams, who could have arguably forced his way into contention for the first test squad for his utility value.

Gatland had said before the game that despite the performance by the side against the Maori, test places were still up for grabs, particularly for the second and third matches in the series.

"Its so important for these players to get a win tonight even if they're not involved on Saturday," Gatland said.

"With the injury rate and you never know what's going to happen from the first to the third test." (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien)