RUGBY: Warren Gatland downplays Jared Payne injury struggles

Lions's CJ Stander
Lions's CJ Stander

Warren Gatland has moved to downplay fears around Jared Payne’s continued calf strain struggles after the British and Irish Lions suffered a 22-16 defeat to the Blues.

Payne carried his calf issue into the Lions tour, and was a late withdrawal from the tour-opening 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians.

Lions' Jared Payne receives treatment after leaving the field with an injury

Lions' Jared Payne receives treatment after leaving the field with an injury

The Ireland centre shook off that issue well enough to start against the Blues, but limped out of the contest in obvious pain - although head coach Gatland insisted Payne is not an undue injury concern.

Dan Biggar failed a head injury assessment (HIA) after taking a heavy hit, but Gatland also insisted the Wales fly-half’s problem is not a big worry either.

“Jared Payne had a tight calf but we knew about that,” said Gatland. “Jared’s had that calf (problem) for a while, so the pleasing thing is he’s got through 50 to 60 minutes.

“We knew at half-time it was a bit tight, but hopefully the calf will strengthen up hopefully.

Lions' Rory Best dejected after the game

Lions' Rory Best dejected after the game

“Dan Biggar failed an HIA but the medics aren’t too concerned about that. And Rhys Webb just has cramp. So at this point we’re reasonably happy with where we are on injuries.”

Sonny Bill Williams’ devastating offload set Ihaia West careering through the bisected Lions backline to score the winning try - just moments after Leigh Halfpenny’s penalty had handed the tourists a 16-15 lead.

Head coach Gatland bemoaned the Lions’ profligacy on the penalty front and challenged his squad to shape up quickly.

The next stop for the Lions will be to face the Crusaders in Canterbury on Saturday - a team boasting a flawless 14 wins from 14 matches in Super Rugby this term.

Blues' Ihaia West scores the winning try against the Lions

Blues' Ihaia West scores the winning try against the Lions

“The big message from Andy Farrell to the players was the penalty count,” said Gatland.

“The first two games we have been a bit soft in that area and we’ve got to be hard on ourselves as players and coaches to tighten up on that.

“We need to be tough on ourselves, there were a lot of momentum swings because of penalties we’ve given away, it’s some you’d consider soft or needless.

“So we definitely need to tighten up in that area and be hard on ourselves.

“We’ve been working pretty hard behind in training in those areas to push the players.

“We’re still not as fresh as we will be in a few weeks, to make sure that when we face the All Blacks we’ll be strong in those areas.

“There’s been a lot of work done behind closed doors in those aspects of training.

“The All Blacks will only just be coming together as well, so perhaps they will be a bit cold.

“It was a moment of magic that won the game tonight, but we’ve got to be better at stopping that offloading game.

“I thought generally we did that well but it’s one moment. We’ve learned a lot from tonight and about the opposition.

“There’s so much strength in depth in this country that these Super Rugby sides are really not very far away from the All Blacks.

“And they have been playing together and gelling for seven months, so these are big tests that will help us move forward quickly.”

Former All Blacks captain and Blues head coach Tana Umaga hailed a memorable win he felt his side deserved to pull off.

“I thought the way they fought hard to the end and the resolve they showed was fantastic,” said Umaga.

“And this is the kind of victory that can stay with them for some time.”