Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen
Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen have clashed in the media after first Test MICHAEL BRADLEY/AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand head coach Steve Hansen has hit back at British and Irish Lions counterpart Warren Gatland's criticism of the All Blacks' alleged deliberate targeting of scrum-half Conor Murray in Saturday's (24 June) opening Test match at Eden Park, labelling his comments "predictable" and "desperate".

Murray looked to utilise his world-class box-kicking to good effect during a 30-15 Lions defeat in Auckland and Gatland subsequently claimed that the hosts' dived at the Ireland international's legs a few times and pushed him to the ground with play that he described as a "little bit dangerous".

"It's just a safety issue for me," he said. "I'd hate to see someone dive at his leg and have him blow a knee and then wreck his rugby career."

Stating an intention to voice his concerns to second Test referee Jerome Garces in advance of the weekend, he added: "It's just a case of making sure he's being looked after and protected and not harassed after he's box kicked. We will probably just get some clarity from the referee later in the week.

"For me, it's just about protecting the players and making sure they are safe. That's my biggest concern. I will just be asking politely that the officials look at that and make sure they protect him."

This is not the first time Gatland has complained about New Zealand's tactics. In the run-up to the opening Test, the Hamilton native caused something of a stir in his homeland by claiming that he had already raised concerns with official Jaco Peyper over the All Blacks' illegal use of blockers.

Responding to those latest complaints, the combative Hansen took the unusual step of calling up Radio Sport New Zealand to denounce his compatriot.

"It's predictable comments from Gatland, isn't it?" he said. "Two weeks ago it was we cheated in the scrums, last week it was blocking and now he's saying this. It's really disappointing to hear it, because what he's implying is that we're going out there to intentionally injure somebody and that's not the case. I guess he might be a bit desperate.

"We've never been like that and as a New Zealander I'd expect him to know the Kiwi psyche."

The All Blacks and the Lions will lock horns for the second time at Westpac Stadium in Wellington on Saturday, but before then the tourists play their final midweek match against the 2016 Super Rugby champion Hurricanes at the same venue.

Conor Murray
Gatland is concerned regarding the All Blacks' treatment of Conor Murray Hannah Peters/Getty Images

The matchday squad for that latter clash was announced yesterday, with Ireland hooker Rory Best set to captain the side for the second time this tour. The likes of Courtney Lawes, Iain Henderson, George North, Jonathan Joseph and Jack Nowell will all hope to prove their credentials ahead of the final two Tests.