Lions Test spots are still up for grabs

by AFP

Coach Warren Gatland said Test spots to face the All Blacks were still up for grabs after the British and Irish Lions' 32-10 mauling of the Maori All Blacks on Saturday.

Gatland said he would wait until after the Lions' final warm-up against the Chiefs on Tuesday before deciding his team for next week's opening Test in Auckland.

"It's a nice stepping-stone for next week," coach Gatland said, after the Lions' victory in wet conditions in Rotorua.

"A few guys are going to get opportunities on Tuesday night in the game against the Chiefs and after that we'll look at selecting the (Test) side." 

The Lions have lost two of their five tour games so far, but from the way they outplayed the Maori it is clear that they are growing in confidence. 

With a shadow Test side, they showed they have nearly perfected the Gatland masterplan as they suffocated the life out of an overwhelmed opposition. 

It was built around the accurate kick-chase game of Ireland halves Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton, and a forward pack thriving on old-school driving up the middle.

It contrasts with the All Blacks' flamboyant, free-running focus where tries are paramount. 

Gatland's Lions turned their 72 percent share of possession into a 75 percent territorial advantage, and pressuring the Maori into mistakes enabled fullback Leigh Halfpenny to kick six penalties. 

Despite their domination they only managed two tries -- one a scrum-powered penalty try and one to impressive lock Maro Itoje, and both when Maori scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow was in the sin bin. 

The arm-wrestle approach, however, suited Gatland who was not concerned about losing two midweek games so far, as long as his side were improving towards the Tests.

"It was a good performance," he said. "We've improved game on game just from the pure quality of the opposition that we've come up against. 

"That was a step up again tonight and I'm really really pleased with that performance.

"We got in behind them, we created some stuff and when you look at the attacking ability of the Maori backline they didn't cause us too many problems. 

"I thought we defended well and the line out and scrum and mauling was excellent."

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