British and Irish Lions: Super Rugby sides 'close to All Blacks' - Gatland

The dejected Lions troop off
The Lions face eight more difficult matches on tour, including the three Tests

British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says the standard of New Zealand's Super Rugby sides rivals that of the All Blacks, following the 22-16 defeat by the Blues at Eden Park.

The Lions now face a daunting match in Christchurch against the in-form Crusaders on Saturday.

"There is so much strength in depth in this country," Gatland said.

"I don't think there will be a lot of difference between some of the Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks."

And the Lions boss added: "These guys have been together seven months and the All Blacks will be coming together cold."

But All Black coach Steve Hansen refused to entertain such suggestions, saying that poor scheduling and unfamiliarity with each other was behind the Lions' slow start.

He said counterpart Gatland must be "trying a bit of humour".

"I don't think there's any comparison between Super Rugby and Test rugby. I don't know what his thinking is," Hansen said.

"They're in the infancy of this tour, they'll only get better, and they'll be a good side when the Tests come round.

"They only want to win the Test matches and Gatland has made that very, very clear. The first Test is all he has his eyes on and I don't think he's too bothered about what happens between now and then."

'Lions have learned a lot'

The Lions gave an improved performance from Saturday's stuttering 13-7 win over the Provincial Barbarians, especially at the set-piece, but lacked a cutting edge compared to the Blues.

Number eight CJ Stander's first-half effort from a rolling maul was the Lions' only try, while the Blues scored three - with Ihaia West's superb late score, set up by Sonny Bill Williams, sealing victory for the Auckland-based franchise.

Despite the defeat, Gatland is confident the Lions - who play all five of New Zealand's Super Rugby sides on the tour - will keep on getting better as they build towards the first Test against New Zealand on 24 June.

"We will have learned a lot from tonight [Wednesday], and we will continue to improve," Gatland added.

"We played a lot better and put ourselves in a position to win the game. Saturday is going to be another tough encounter."

Wing Elliot Daly added: "We have to learn from this game and move on very quickly.

"The squad is full of very experienced players that have lost games before and won major games. So we are going to push on ahead of Saturday."

Lions tour
3 JuneProvincial BarbariansWon 13-7
7 JuneBluesLost 22-16
10 JuneCrusaders
13 JuneHighlanders
17 JuneMaori All Blacks
20 JuneChiefs
24 JuneNew Zealand
27 JuneHurricanes
1 JulyNew Zealand
8 JulyNew Zealand

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