Defence coach Andy Farrell believes the British & Irish Lions shutout of the Crusaders was an important step along the road in the build-up to the first Test against New Zealand in 12 days, writes Simon Lewis, Dunedin.
Super League leaders Crusaders were kept tryless in Christchurch last Saturday, when they lost for the first time in 2017 after a 14-game winning streak. It was the first time the free-scoring side, which has been averaging 37 points per game this season, has failed to cross the whitewash in 38 games, shut down by the tourists as they took a step up in defensive intensity and linespeed to seal a 12-3 victory at AMI Stadium.
After two less than convincing performances in the first week of the tour, a win over the Provincial Barbarians and defeat to the Blues, Ireland and Lions defence coach Farrell now has a foundation on which to build, starting on Tuesday (8:35am Irish time) against the Highlanders in Dunedin.
“I thought our game management was outstanding against a very good side,” Farrell said on Monday following a final training run under the roof at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“I thought the most pleasing thing was keeping them down to three points, our discipline was better, but the main thing for us was that we got stronger throughout the game. Our collisions got stronger, our breakdown got better, our linespeed improved.
“We're bearing the fruits of the last three weeks. We've gone hard with the lads in contact, fitness, taking a lot out of the legs and with the travel, etc. that would have had an impact on the first couple of games, but we're ready to get battle-hardened for a Test match.
“We're still ramping it up intensity-wise in training, contact-wise, because we've got to get up to breakneck speed for the first Test.”
The Lions have three more games to ramp up for the first of three Tests against the world champion All Blacks on June 24 and playing twice a week during the early stages of the tour saw Farrell admit there was little time for coaches to innovate or introduce new ideas or modify the basic systems.
“You find on a tour like this that you put types of system in place and the lads go and run with that, and you work together along the tour.
“There isn't that much time really to review and actually train. For example, over the last couple of training sessions, we're having 13 on the field and you're having a captain's run, so there's not much you can do in the captain's run. The other 13, it's not 15-on-15, so there's not that much you can do in between in this first part of the tour.
“After this game, you've got a bit of a break - a massive break of four days until the Maori! - and then we've got two days until the Chiefs and things start to settle down, which is great for us because there will be a hell of a lot of water under the bridge.
“I suppose the work you do behind the scenes in reviews and meetings, we'll get better from there.”