WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Jun 29 – 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.”