Gatland backtracks on 'explosive' claims

British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland.  Photo: file
British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland. Photo: File
Warren Gatland has attempted to backtrack on the severity of claims he made about the All Blacks in his book and refused to reveal apparent controversial details.

At their usual Vale Resort base on the outskirts of Cardiff, Gatland made a surprise appearance to address controversy in the closing stages of Wales' 13-6 win over Georgia, saying there was no attempt to mainipulate the rules to get uncontested scrums.

In the course of the press conference he suggested there was no lingering tension between he and All Blacks coach Steve Hansen - going as far to say they were on good terms.

Gatland also joked he may be dressed up as a clown again this week.

First, though, in a direct line of questioning from the New Zealand Herald, Gatland attempted to dispute statements he made in his book, 'In the Line of Fire: The Inside Story from the Lions Head Coach'.

The quote of specific relevance as the All Blacks prepare for their final test of the year, and Gatland squares off against his countrymen for the first time since the drawn British and Irish Lions series, is this which made global headlines:

"I have heard of some things about the All Blacks that could be quite explosive if they were made public, and if it does get dirty then I will raise a couple of those things. At the moment I'm just keeping my counsel."

Today, when asked by the New Zealand Herald to explain, he took exception to the suggestion he had threatened to reveal 'explosive' details.

"Are those the words I said? I will comment on the quote but I won't comment on your re-phrasing of the quote," Gatland said.

"Explosive is a pretty exaggerated word. I said I'd known things about the All Blacks and how personal some of the attacks on me were, and if it needs to get dirty I could reveal a little bit of stuff. And that could be anything - it doesn't have to be explosive."

Gatland went on to say that, like all coaches, part of his role is to assume pressure and deflect it away from his team onto the opposition.

"Since that tour five months ago certain things have been revealed about players and bits and pieces and that happens all the time. One thing you learn in this job is you take the criticism. You've got to be very careful about how you throw it back. You can't criticise the media because you'll never win in that situation.

"So I used that opportunity, writing the book, to express how I felt at the time. People think I was being paranoid about some of the personal stuff that went on daily in terms of criticism of myself and the team, and that's their opinion.

"I thought I was restrained in what I said and, when I needed to defend the team, I did that and I didn't have to sling mud at the All Blacks or reveal anything about them that I might have known that might have potentially taken some controversy or pressure off myself and the Lions in that set up."

Pressed again to reveal exactly what it is he claims to know about the All Blacks, Gatland refused.

"New Zealand is a small country and you keep your counsel. There's things you guys hear in the media - little stories and rumours all the time. I'm not going to say now a couple of things I could have revealed about... I'm not saying it was explosive stuff... a little story that might have taken the tension away that was being addressed at us every day.

"I didn't say that publicly. I saved those feelings for the book."

Like Hansen earlier this week, Gatland attempted to downplay connections between the Lions and this week's match.

But after the Kiwi coaches traded regular verbal barbs throughout the tour, the resumption of their rivalry was always going to create intrigue.

"People try to make a lot of stuff about myself and Steve. All I can say from that point of view is I'd like to think there's no issues between Steve and myself.

"I have a huge amount of respect for what he has achieved in the game and the success he's had as an All Blacks coach. He's been absolutely outstanding. I look forward to catching up with him after the game and having a drink."

Gatland said in recent years the respective All Blacks and Welsh management teams had, on a couple of occasions, shared meals.

"We all understand the pressures that we're under. And the pressure in terms of results and performance is not a result of our relationship; it's about people trying to stoke the fires. He understands that and I understand that.

"For us, it's about Wales and the All Blacks this week and us trying to get a victory we haven't had since 1953."

Post Lions tour, Gatland endured stinging criticism from experienced Irish openside Sean O'Brien who said the coaches got game-plans wrong and overworked the squad. In a series of interviews promoting his book, Gatland issued conflicting statements about hating the tour to potentially wanting to do the job again.

His final remarks today were reserved for the New Zealand media, with Gatland previously claiming somewhat strangely there was a collective, orchestrated campaign to unsettle him. He said this made him a better, more resilient coach.

"At some stage I'll probably be dressed up as a clown again this week so I'll just take it on the chin and move on.

"I said it was tough and challenging from a personal perspective but when you back a Kiwi into a corner we come out fighting. I felt like I was in a boxing match and I was going to come out on top.

"I didn't enjoy aspects of the tour but I enjoyed that challenge; not thinking anyone was going to get the better of me or split the squad. There was some pretty underhanded stuff going on. There are one or two people I'd like to get into a room on their own with me but that might have to wait for another day.

"What we achieved in New Zealand on reflection was absolutely outstanding. Yes, we had a little bit of luck but that's gone now and we should be proud of that achievement. For me my focus is on Wales and the next two years."

And with that, Gatland set the scene for another fascinating week.

Just don't suggest it will be explosive.

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