x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rugby union round-up: Gatland fancies taking Lions to New Zealand

New Zealander would 'jump at the opportunity' to manage side in his native country in 2017.

Warren Gatland says he will not take pleasure in being vindicated after dropping Brian O'Driscoll for the third Test.
Warren Gatland says he will not take pleasure in being vindicated after dropping Brian O'Driscoll for the third Test.

Warren Gatland would "jump at the opportunity" to take charge of the British & Irish Lions for a second time in his native New Zealand.

The Wales manager said in the aftermath of the Lions' series-clinching 41-16 win over Australia on Saturday he was "shocked" by the "vitriolic" response to his team selection for the game, as fans and former players reacted to the omission of centre Brian O'Driscoll.

But it seems that has not put him off a second stint in charge when the Lions head to his homeland in 2017.

"If I was given the opportunity to do the Lions in New Zealand in 2017 I would jump at that opportunity – 100 per cent," he told the Mail on Sunday.

"It would be a massive honour and extra special to take them to my home country."

Gatland admitted on Saturday he had been taken aback by the strength of the criticism of his decision to leave Ireland centre O'Driscoll out of his matchday 23.

"I was absolutely shocked by what was said. It was vitriolic almost in terms of the criticism," Gatland said.

"I haven't taken a lot of pleasure out of this in terms of feeling vindicated. I haven't enjoyed the last 72 hours, it's been tough personally."

Melbourne loss spurred Halfpenny

Leigh Halfpenny has revealed that his second Test misery in Melbourne proved a motivating factor behind him producing the game of his life on Sunday.

The Wales full-back was in unstoppable form at Sydney's ANZ Stadium, breaking two Lions records.

Halfpenny's 21-point haul – he also had a hand in creating tries for Jonathan Sexton and George North – was a Lions Test record, while his 49 points in the series beat his goalkicking mentor Neil Jenkins' previous best of 41, set 16 years ago.

But it was a kick he missed – a last-gasp penalty from 50 metres that would have given the Lions victory last weekend and secured the series a game early – that drove him on.

"It was hard after the game, I was pretty down. It was tough, really tough," he said. "I had the chance to win it for the Lions and I didn't take it. That is what all the hard work is for, for moments like that. I was devastated at not being able to do it.

"It was touch and go, that kick. I felt if I connected with it I would make it, but I didn't connect and it took me a few days to shake it off.

"But we had another chance, and people made that clear to me we had another chance. Not often in sport do you get a second chance.

"I had to put it behind me, but I also used the experience. I didn't want to feel like that again.

"I used it as a motivation because the disappointment can stay with you. I wanted to be a part of a Lions series win, and it helped me today."

O'Connor concedes thrashing

James O'Connor described the Lions as playing like men possessed after being on the receiving end of the drubbing.

"It was a great performance by them, they played the full 80 minutes," he said.

"At 50 or 60 minutes we had really come into the game [Australia fought back from 19-3 down to just 19-16 adrift] and I felt momentum was shifting our way, but they found a way to turn it.

"Every little error we made they jumped on that, turned it into points and kept the scoreboard ticking over.

"The scoreboard blew out at the end, but they played clinical rugby. We tried to suck the juice out of their legs, but they just kept coming at us.

"We always knew the team that was going to win was the one that wanted it more. Physically, we knew had to be right up there, and they were just better than us on the night. They played possessed.

"Physically-wise, they just dominated us. We made a lot of half-breaks, and we knew exactly how they were going to play, but they won the one per centres."

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