Andy Farrell likes the look of the Lions squad he helped pick but admits head coach Warren Gatland will only discover on tour whether the chosen ones have the right stuff to beat the All Blacks.
Ireland’s defence coach, who is embarking on his third Lions expedition this summer, believes taking on the world champions in New Zealand will be the ultimate test of the players’ character and that would only be revealed when the 41 players from four countries come together for six weeks in June and July.
So while he agrees with Gatland that this is the strongest group of players assembled in their time on the Lions staff, there is still no way of telling.
“I was part of the process and it was a thorough process. You’d look at it and the first remit for us all was ‘who’s going to accept being second best’ and I don’t see anyone that wants to be second best,” Farrell said.
“I see competitors who are not going to accept not being in the starting side and we’ve got a squad of 41 like that.
“You can say here and now that we believe that that guy has the right character and that guy has, the whole squad of 41 has, but it’s about the feel of the here and now when you’re on tour.
"That’s the important part because we know that it’s going to be taxing, we know there’s going to be all sorts of emotions, ups and downs, and who can deal with it (is vital).
“Who can deal with a lack of sleep at the start, who can deal with the travel, with preparing themselves the best they can to train properly and then, when they get the chance, who can deal with performing?
"That creates or breaks character along the way as well. That’s why I don’t think you can judge too much until those sort of permutations start to happen.”
One player you would expect to fit the bill in terms of having the right character is Munster captain Peter O’Mahony, whose return from long-term injury this season was capped by his outstanding performance in the Ireland back row in the Six Nations victory over England a month ago. Farrell was mightily impressed.
“He’s a top professional and a guy that’s been unlucky with injuries in the last period of time. You could see a build-up through the Six Nations of Pete being fit and then he had a little hamstring tweak which sat him out for a week or two.
“Then he accepted being on the bench but you could see he wasn’t accepting being on the bench and then there was a build and he got his spot right at the last moment. He was ready to perform because of the preparation and how diligent he’d been throughout the whole of the Six Nations.
“He was fantastic in making sure that the team prepared properly, to be the best that they could be and he was selfless in that preparation and I think that helped him in his own preparation to be right for the full 80 minutes.”
Meanwhile, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen says Lions staff would not want to base their selections on the back of Ireland’s win over the All Blacks considering the result a fortnight later.
Gatland said the Lions faced the “toughest tour” but seized upon Ireland’s shock 40-29 win over the All Blacks in Chicago in November as proof they were only human.
Hansen shot back that the Lions staff would not want to base their selections on that result, given the All Blacks defeated the Irish 21-9 two weeks later in Dublin.
“You’re clutching at straws if that’s how you are selecting teams. I’m pretty happy that our guys got some confidence beating Ireland in Ireland,” he told New Zealand’s Radio Sport. “You pick players who can do the job you want them to do and play the style of game you want to play.”
While stating that he feels the Lions squad is the best “that we’ve seen come here for a long, long time”, he says there will be pressure to perform.
“It’s going to be a very good side and they’ll come with a lot of expectation, which I think is going to be interesting to see how they cope with that. A lot more expectation than they’ve been used to because people expect them to win.”
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