Warren Gatland says the British and Irish Lions remain totally united following the much-talked-about addition of six new squad members.
With the first Test against New Zealand a week away, Gatland opted to call up six men who were already in Oceania with Wales and Scotland – Tomas Francis, Kristian Dacey, Cory Hill, Gareth Davies, Finn Russell and Allan Dell.
The decision to bring in a host of players who appear unlikely to feature in the Test team has caused consternation in certain quarters, with England coach Eddie Jones stating that Lions should be “picked on merit rather than geographical proximity”.
Following the Lions’ impressive victory over the Maori All Blacks on Saturday, it was put to Gatland that there had been suggestions the camp was about to split in two.
Having asked who made that claim, Gatland laughed and smiled when a reporter replied with the answer “Steve Hansen [the All Blacks coach]”.
“There’s no way we’ve divided into two,” said Gatland.
“I look back on [the Lions tour in] 2013 and between the first and the third Tests there were nine different selections, so the players who, for whatever reason, may not be involved in the first Test, you’ve got to stay alive, you’ve got to stay in it because you might get a chance in the second or third Test.
“We’ve said all along it’s about preparing and learning from the games warming up, but it’s all about the Test series – it’s about winning the Test series and that’s what we’re here to do. If we drop a couple of games on the way, we can live with that as long as we showed improvement, as long as we benefited from the time together.
“We’ve been written off … and I think that’s actually brought us closer together as a group. You see the guys who weren’t involved [against the Maori All Blacks] on the touchline and what it means to them in terms of the whole squad.
“We’re very, very close, so if Steve Hansen knows what’s going on from outside then he’s a much better man than I am.”