Lions tour: Warren Gatland demands referees protect Conor Murray
Lions coach Warren Gatland has taken aim at certain All Blacks for "diving blindly" at his halfback Conor Murray's legs and putting him at risk of injury.
At a jam-packed first press conference on arrival in Wellington for Tuesday's match against the Hurricanes and the second test four days later, Gatland said he would meet French referee Jerome Garces to discuss it this week. South African Jaco Peyper had the whistle for the All Blacks' 30-15 win on Saturday.
Gatland didn't name names but he felt Murray, whose box kicking was one effective weapon for the Lions, was being put at risk by All Blacks looking to charge down his punts and rough him up.
"The one concern for me was, a couple of times from Conor Murray, there was a chargedown where someone dived at his legs which was a little bit dangerous," Gatland said.
"After he's kicked he's been pushed a few times, pushed to the ground. They're not massive issues for us, but we're just making sure that he's being looked after and protected and not harassed after he's box kicked."
Asked how Murray was handling being targeted by the All Blacks, Gatland said: "It's a little bit tough when you see someone dive at someone's leg, you feel for the player and it's concerning that they're not trying to charge the kick down because they're nowhere near it, they're diving blindly and hitting someone's leg.
"For me it's about protecting the players and making sure they're safe. That's my biggest concern. I'll be asking politely the officials, to look at that and make sure they protect them."
Gatland said there was no escaping the fact this was the most important week of their tour, after the All Blacks stamped an indelible mark on the series in Auckland.
After an extensive review of the tape, Gatland felt his side did plenty of things well at Eden Park but the glaring issue was getting beaten in the contact area.
He chuckled at a question about the All Blacks' direct rather than expansive style.
"They didn't really play champagne rugby, did they? If we had played that way and won the game it would have been interesting to see the reaction.
"I said to the team: don't expect them to be expansive. As a Kiwi I understand what the mindset is; to stop the strength of the opposition, to stop our line speed, to stop our driven lineout and to have a crack at our scrum and they did all those things and were very physical at the breakdown. It wasn't a surprise the way they did come at us, we've got to learn from that and be better and expect more of the same on Saturday."
The coach named a near unchanged midweek team to face a powerful looking Hurricanes side who welcome back Julian Savea, Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape and Vaea Fifita from All Blacks camp.
Hooker Rory Best will captain the same pack which monstered the Chiefs in a 34-6 win last Tuesday, while halves Greig Laidlaw and Dan Biggar combine again.
Jack Nowell, who scored two tries on the right wing in Hamilton, moves to fullback. In an outside back reshuffle, Tommy Seymour takes his spot at No 14 while George North, who hasn't played since the win over New Zealand Maori and looked set for a test berth, will play left wing.
Test lock George Kruis was named on the bench on the quick backup, a week after fellow starter Alun Wyn Jones performed that role against the Chiefs.
Last week, wing Elliot Daly and fullback Liam Williams forced their way into the first test team with dynamic performances against the Chiefs, and Gatland insisted spots for the Wellington test were up for grabs. Lock Courtney Lawes is potentially one, after an impressive tour so far.
"We spoke about that when we selected the side, players potentially with a chance to put their hand up for selection for Saturday.
"There's no hiding away from the fact this week is really important for us. To get a good performance on Tuesday, a good victory to build into Saturday will be pretty crucial."
British and Irish Lions to play the Hurricanes: Jack Nowell, Tommy Seymour, Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, George North, Dan Biggar, Greig Laidlaw, CJ Stander, Justin Tipuric, James Haskell, Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson, Dan Cole, Rory Best (c), Joe Marler. Reserves: Kristian Dacey, Allan Dell, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, George Kruis, Gareth Davies, Finn Russell, Jared Payne.