All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said Thursday the media needed to stop ridiculing British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland and disputed any suggestion of animosity between the pair.
He also refused to engage in a war of words with journalists over potentially dangerous play by Lions players in the first Test, describing rugby as "a big boy's game".
The Lions tour of New Zealand has been filled with barbs from both sides, with Hansen variously calling Gatland "desperate" and "predictable" while the Lions coach has claimed he had Hansen "worried" and accused the All Blacks of deliberate foul play.
But in the countdown to the second Test in Wellington on Saturday, with the Lions needing to win to keep the series alive, Hansen poured cold water on talk of mutual dislike between the coaches, both of them New Zealanders.
He claimed it was an issue ramped up by the media and took particular exception to one local newspaper cartoon depicting Gatland as a clown.
"To ridicule someone is not right and a bit disappointing really," he told a packed press conference.
It's one thing to have a bit of banter, and then you guys beef it up to make it bigger than it really is ... so to come out and do that (cartoon) I think you're ridiculing somebody that doesn't deserve it.
- A beer and a chuckle -
"I read somewhere that I 'lashed out at Warren Gatland'. I haven't lashed out at Warren Gatland, at all. I've got a lot of respect for him and I'm looking forward to having a beer with him and a chuckle about life.
"It's the media that ramp it up because it sells you guys newspapers. Who am I to say stop it? But I do look at it and say 'well, that's actually not how it went'."
Although Gatland has suggested the All Blacks may have been trying to deliberately injure Lions players in the first Test, Hansen refused to bite when questioned about dubious incidents involving Lions prop Mako Vunipola.
"It's just something that happens in the game. Vunipola will probably look at it and think 'I was a bit stupid' but move on, we've got another game coming up," Hansen said. "There's no point dragging stuff up."
Hansen said there were citing commissioners to catch any foul play that may have escaped the referee and he was not going to debate any issues that went unpunished.
"Move on from it. I don't know any rugby players that we've played against or I've coached, who intentionally go out to hurt anyone.
"Rugby's a big boy's game played by big boys and people with character."
Gatland, when told of Hansen's comments, also denied any friction describing himself as "pretty mild" and complimentary of the All Blacks but he referred to some people having "a personal campaign" against him.
"I don't know if there's any hostility from this side but hopefully we can have a good game of rugby and maybe enjoy a beer together afterwards."
Hansen gets in a pre-tour dig over claims Gatland has a one-dimensional "Warrenball" game plan:
"We assume Warren's not going to have an epiphany and change the way he plays."
Super standard All Blacks?
Gatland tries to draw positives from an early tour loss to the Auckland Blues:
"I don't think there will be much of a difference between Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks. It's going to give us great preparation playing at this level and learning from these hard, competitive games."
Hansen scoffs at Gatland's comments
"I just think he was trying a bit of humour after struggling a wee bit with his press conference before. I don't think there’s any comparison between Super Rugby and Test rugby. I don't know what his thinking is."
Block party bullies
Gatland accuses New Zealand of illegal blocking tactics before the first Test:
"It's part of the game in New Zealand, all New Zealand teams are doing it at the moment... we’ve just got to hope the referees, assistant referees and the TMOs pick up what's going on."
Hansen hits back
"There's no point in trying to bully the referees publicly in the media."
Gatland's said of Hansen's demeanour before the first Test:
"He's a little bit more worried than he normally is, saying these comments about us, things he knows about or doesn’t know about, that is normally a sign of a man that is a little bit worried.
"It's unlike Steve and maybe he is worried by potentially how good this team can be."
In the wake of the Lions' 30-15 loss in the first Test, Gatland accuses the All Blacks of foul play when targeting his scrum-half Conor Murray:
"There was a charge down where someone dived at his legs. I thought 'that's a little bit dangerous', and after he's kicked he’s been pushed a few times, pushed to the ground.
"They're actually diving blindly and hitting someone's leg. It's a safety issue for me. I'd hate to see someone dive at his leg and have him blow a knee and then wreck his rugby career."
An irate Hansen calls talkback radio and comes out all guns blazing:
"It's predictable comments from Gatland, isn't it? Two weeks ago we cheated in the scrums and last week it was blocking and now he's saying this.
"It's really, really disappointing to hear it because what he's implying is we're intentionally going out to injure somebody."
Jeers of a clown
Gatland says he's not affected by Hansen's jibes or a newspaper cartoon depicting him as a clown:
"I'm not bothered what (Hansen) says or what a newspaper draws. I hope it was a happy clown, that’s all. I'd like to think as a Kiwi that some things about me would be more positive from some media, but that hasn’t happened.
"One or two people have had a personal campaign against me, but that's water off a duck’s back. I couldn’t give a toss."