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Hansen says Lions counterpart Gatland "clutching at straws"

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says British and Irish Lions coach Warren Gatland may be "clutching at straws" by including 11 Ireland players in his 41-man squad for the June tour to New Zealand.

In a radio interview Thursday, Hansen said Gatland seemed to be hoping the inclusion of players who took part in Ireland's historic first test win over the All Blacks last year might rub off on the Lions. The Irish upset top-ranked New Zealand on neutral turf at Chicago, but the All Blacks reversed the surprising defeat when the teams met again in Ireland only a few weeks later.

"I'm pretty confident that our guys got some confidence beating Ireland in Ireland," Hansen said. "You are clutching at straws if that's how you are selecting teams. You pick players who can do the job you want them to do, who play the style of game you want them to play. It's not about picking teams who beat us in Chicago."

Among the other 30 Lions tourists selected, none of the 12 Wales players, two Scotland players and few of the 16 England players have experienced a test victory over New Zealand.

The announcement of Gatland's team will intensify the psychological strategies ahead of the three-test series in June — the first between the All Blacks and Lions since 2005, when New Zealand swept a highly-rated Lions squad 3-0.

Gatland has already sought to apply some pressure on the hosts by suggesting flyhalf Beauden Barrett, the World Rugby Player of the Year last season, might be a weakness in the All Blacks lineup because of his goal kicking. Gatland pointed out the Lions had several accomplished goalkickers in the squad.

Hansen brushed off that suggestion, recalling a tough test in Ireland in 2013 when the All Blacks rallied from a 19-0 deficit and landed a sideline conversion to an injury-time try to clinch a 24-22 victory.

"Ireland should have won the game with goalkicking but we did with a guy kicking from the sideline," Hansen said. "They have some very, very good goalkickers, no disputing that, and goalkicking is very important to the game, no disputing that. But it's all about how you deal with the pressure in the big moments.

"Our guys in the big moments have done us proud, Beauden and Aaron Cruden. Lima Sopoaga will come back and he's a very good goalkicker. It's under pressure which counts, not the ones in front."

Hansen said he expects the Lions to play an uncomplicated style typical of what Gatland uses with the Wales team.

"He's done most of his coaching up north, got a particular style he likes which works for him up there, using big ball carriers up front, big midfielders to carry," Hansen said. "It tells you what the mindset is, how he wants to play, if he shoves Ben Te'o to No. 12. You will see Ben carrying strong up the middle a-la-Jamie Roberts for years for Wales."

Hansen said the Lions would have to face a new type of pressure in New Zealand — pressure they might not be used to but which the All Blacks faced every day.

"They come with massive expectation," he said. "Our advantage is we play with that expectation all the time.

"They'll be expected to win this series, one of the best Lions teams for a long, long time. How they deal with that will be interesting to see."

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