Lions coach Rob Howley rejects referee bullying claims from Steve Hansen
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 24/06/17 11:10am
Rob Howley has poured scorn on All Blacks boss Steve Hansen for claiming the British and Irish Lions have attempted to bully referees.
New Zealand boss Hansen claimed his Lions counterpart Warren Gatland was "trying to bully the referees publicly in the media", by calling on officials to cut down on illegal blocking.
But the Lions say they have already had all the same conversations with referees as what has been discussed in public.
The Lions will face New Zealand at Eden Park in the first Test on Saturday, with assistant coach Howley praising referee Jaco Peyper's first-rate qualities.
"We had a really good meeting with the head coaches back in March, a World Rugby meeting," said Howley.
"I think Steve Hansen couldn't make that meeting, (All Blacks assistant) Ian Foster was there.
"And that's what we wanted from the referees, the top five officials in world rugby were there."
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Peyper took charge when New Zealand bludgeoned Ireland 21-9 in Dublin on November 19 in last autumn's Test matches.
The All Blacks exacted a brutal revenge for their first-ever defeat to Ireland, the 40-29 loss two weeks earlier in Chicago on November 5.
South African referee Peyper made some contentious calls in only issuing a yellow card to Malakai Fekitoa for a head-high tackle on Simon Zebo, and imposing merely a penalty when Sam Cane wiped out Robbie Henshaw.
Cane caught Henshaw high with his shoulder, with the Leinster centre removed from the field on a stretcher.
The Lions still believe Peyper is the right man for the job in Saturday's first Test, however, with Howley insisting he is a referee who gives both sides a fair crack of the whip.
"That's what we want from referees, it's to referee the game," said Howley. "Referee to the law, and in terms of material effect of the speed of ball, just referee the law - if it's offside, it's offside.
"It's up to us to coach players, and it's exactly the same, just referee the laws of the game, and if we get consistency in the laws.
"Jaco Peyper is a very good referee. He refereed our second Test in Wellington last year with Wales.
"And that's all you want from a referee, is to give you a chance to win. And be consistent.
"And we felt Jaco was excellent that day, and I'm sure he'll have a good game at the weekend."
Leigh Halfpenny suffered a nasty-looking blow to the head during the Lions' 32-10 win over the Maori in Rotorua on Saturday, with Tawera Kerr-Barlow receiving a yellow card for the challenge.
The Wales flyer has now returned to full training, however, and is therefore ready to take his seat on the bench for Saturday's first Test.
"Everything's fine with Leigh - he couldn't train early on in the week," said Howley.
"He had his first light session on Thursday and trained fully on Friday. So he's completely fit.
"Leigh can cover wing and full-back, we've discussed the bench quite a bit in terms of Jonathan Joseph being involved.
"And we're just mindful of New Zealand and the way they might want to play the game.
"The aerial battle is going to be pretty important at the weekend, and the coverage in the back three. We felt Leigh Halfpenny was the best decision in the 23 shirt."
Former Wales and Lions scrum-half Howley admitted the tourists could well pair Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell as twin playmakers when the raft of replacements join the second-half fray.
"We've discussed the 10-12, we might see that on Saturday, depending on how the game goes," said Howley of possibly pairing Sexton and Farrell.
"We'll make the substitutions as they're needed.
"We've got a very good bench, and I think that will be a point of difference at some stage as well.
"I've seen a change in Owen (Farrell) in the four years since the 2013 tour: there's a stability, a confidence about him, and that drips down to the players.
"Johnny (Sexton) is a narky old player, he always asks questions and wants to know what he needs to do - I really like that."