Lions tour: Warren Gatland accuses All Blacks of dodgy 'blocking' tactics
British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has accused the All Blacks of employing illegal tactics in a move that is likely to heighten tensions between the two camps ahead of the first test at Eden Park in Auckland on Saturday.
Gatland has claimed that Steve Hansen's side consistently uses blockers to prevent opponents from competing for the ball in the air and also holds opposition players off the ball to spoil attacking plays.
The Lions head coach said he had already raised the issue with Saturday's match referee Jaco -Peyper, who officiated in the Lions' 32-10 victory over NZ Maori, having experienced what he claimed were underhand tactics in all five tour matches in New Zealand.
Peyper penalised NZ Maori twice in Rotorua on Saturday for blocking and the assistant referees were constantly talking to him about watching for blockers.
"The frustrating thing for us is the amount of blocking that's going on, it makes it difficult to complete attacking opportunities and situations because there is so much happening off the ball in terms of holding players or subtly holding players," Gatland said.
"We've raised it with the referee already. If you listen to the ref's mic, they were talking about it constantly through the game.
"They gave a couple of penalties [against NZ Maori] for blocking. It's one of the hardest things to pick up because it tends to happen quite a long way off the ball.
"In fairness to the assistant referees, they did raise it on a number of occasions. And sometimes it was put through to the television match official who said it did not have a material affect and told the ref to talk to the players about it.
"We'll keep raising it," Gatland added.
"Because it was picked up on a couple of occasions on Saturday night, they stopped doing it as much. That made it a lot easier for us to get up in the air and to compete. In a couple of games we haven't been able to get up in the air because there has been that interference."
Gatland has instructed his video analysis team to compile video clips of alleged instances of blocking amid concerns that the All Blacks will use the tactic on Saturday.
"I know how difficult it is to pick up for referees because it tends to happen away from the ball," Gatland said.
"Someone just changes the line and blocks. We have clipped a lot of the situations. We have just got to be aware of it. For us it's being smart and hopefully the officials are aware of it.
"If you look back the very first kick-off in Chicago with Ireland against the All Blacks, the All Blacks were penalised for interference and blocking. All I am asking is the officials are aware of it and look at it and they did that on Saturday night so I was happy with it."
Gatland claimed blocking had already prevented his side from completing a number of try-scoring opportunities on the tour.
"When you go back and look at the tapes and look at all the stuff off the ball, where someone's run a line or stopped someone getting through, some of it is very subtle," he said.
"That's made it difficult. It's part of the game in New Zealand, all New Zealand teams at the moment are doing it."
Gatland's plea came as the head coach confirmed that Owen Farrell will be fit to start the first test despite missing the victory over the Maori with a quad strain. Farrell will start at first five-eighth alongside an expected midfield of Ben Te'o and Jonathan Davies.
"He [Farrell] could have played on Saturday," Gatland said.
"If it was a test match he would have played. We just made a decision that it wasn't worth taking that risk.
"It's a quad strain that was very high and it's not on his kicking leg - it's on his left leg. I've no doubt that he will be 100 per cent fit for the first test. He will train tomorrow."
Gatland admitted the possibility of playing both Farrell and Jonathan Sexton together was still being considered but that combination is expected to be unleashed on the All Blacks from the bench.
Sam Warburton's omission from the squad to face the Chiefs tomorrow confirms the Lions captain will be part of the 23-man test squad but the Wales flanker is expected to have to be content with a place on the bench in Auckland, raising the prospect of Ireland flanker Peter O'Mahony captaining the Lions in the first test.
The decision to name Alun Wyn Jones on the bench against the Chiefs in Hamilton reveals that the starting locks are expected be the all-Saracens and England pairing of Maro Itoje and George Kruis.
Jones' place among the replacements is also under threat from the Ulster and Ireland lock Iain Henderson, who can play his way onto the test bench with a big performance against the Chiefs.
Meanwhile, Elliot Daly has been handed the opportunity to press his claims for the left-wing place ahead of George North, having been named in the starting XV to face the Chiefs.
- The Daily Telegraph