British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland says his players had to “keep the faith” as they prepared for Saturday’s key win over the Crusaders.
The Lions started the tour of New Zealand with before a but recovered to record a significant 12-3 win in Christchurch.
“It’s been tough this week, there’s been a lot of criticism,” Gatland said.
“People have written the tour off already after two games.
“That’s been challenging for all of us. We’ve had to stay strong in the group and keep the faith.
“I hope we didn’t disappoint any people tonight with the result.”
Fly-half Owen Farrell kicked four penalties for the Lions, while a heroic defensive effort managed to keep the Crusaders – who have averaged 37 points across 14 straight victories in Super Rugby – to merely a penalty.
The Lions now face the Highlanders, New Zealand Maori and the Chiefs before the first Test against New Zealand on June 24.
“This is great preparation for us preparing to play the best team in the world, which is the All Blacks,” Gatland added.
“It’s a like a club side coming together in pre-season, getting a couple of games under its belt and you know the more time together the better you’ll get.
“This team was outstanding in training on Friday, looked sharp and I knew there would be a performance because they have had time to gel.
“The result was pretty important for us. Tonight was another step up, but there is still a lot to work on.”
One of those areas is their finishing, after the Lions spurned a handful of opportunities to score tries against the Super Rugby side.
“We are creating [chances], and we need to get better at [finishing]. The more time we have together, hopefully we will finish those chances.”
Gatland also confirmed tour captain Sam Warburton would be involved against the Highlanders in Dunedin next week,
Full-back Stuart Hogg and centre Jonathan Davies will both undergo concussion return-to-play protocols after failing Head Injury Assessments during the game.
“We’ve laid a marker down a little bit tonight, now it’s a big challenge for the team that takes the field on Tuesday,” Gatland said.
Kruis wants a brutal Lions pack
Meanwhile, second-row George Kruis was part of the outstanding forward effort and feels the Lions pack has made a statement with the Test series a fortnight away.
“We had a good contest today, and probably got the upper hand,” the Saracens and England lock said.
“There were six internationals in their pack, and we knew it was going to be a tasty game. It got a bit heated at times, but we held our own and did a good job.
“We relish the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with a pack like that. We talk about how we want to be a brutal pack and a set-piece dominant pack, and today we showed good signs of that.
“It’s every boy’s dream to play for the Lions, and to get a win like that today, hopefully we can really start to build this culture and build towards the Tests.”