Andy Farrell believes the British & Irish Lions are relishing the challenge of shutting down a prolific New Zealand attack, just as they have done to the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks, writes Simon Lewis.
The Lions defence coach has seen his players keep the free-scoring Super Rugby-leading Crusaders tryless and restrict the Maori to a single score over the past two Saturdays but recognises the offensive prowess coming the tourists' way at Eden Park this weekend will be another step up in class again.
That said, Farrell believes his work with the Lions defence is paying dividends ahead of the opening Test match in Auckland this Saturday.
“We're becoming very cohesive, I think there's an identity to it, that's what we're about, we've got to stand for something,” he said overnight in Hamilton, where the Lions will be playing the Chiefs on Tuesday. “We're forcing a few errors, we've played as physically as we should be but is there room for improvement? Of course there is.
As to what that identity was, Farrell added: “I'm sure you've seen some physical hits, some good defensive breakdown work. We've put some good pressure on the ball and therefore we've earned the right to give line speed.
“And on the back of that, if we haven't earned the right we've also been good at adjusting.
“So again we're still developing that, but it's coming good.
“The players enjoy it, they buzz off one another. They want to show their intent, and that's building nicely.”
Watching the All Blacks dismantle Samoa in their warm-up Test last Friday night, scoring 12 tries during a game in which they ceded the majority of territory and possession to the Pacific Islanders certainly caught Farrell's attention.
“They were pretty impressive ball in hand,” the Ireland and Lions defence coach said. “There was some outstanding attacking play and it's up to us to make sure we have a plan to make sure they don't get what they want and the play the game at a pace we want to play at.
“It is the unstructured stuff that they are fantastic at. The turnover ball and offloads are part of that and you see Sonny Bill coming off both feet into space and offloading the ball.
“We talk a lot about our tackle entry and how effective we can be individually but sometimes it is the two-man hit. It is the job of the assistant tackler to make sure he is spot on as well, so we've been working on that.”
Farrell coined the phrase “enjoy and destroy” during a 2013 Lions team talk in Australia and he likes the response he is getting from the current squad as they prepare for an even bigger defensive challenge over three Tests.
“The All Blacks are the best team in the world and rightly so, they're an unbelievable side. If you look at our side, the squad is full of winners, it's full of guys who are used to winning and know how to win.
“They're in a new side that's been developing over the last four weeks and I think we're going to be a hell of a side.
“We play this game on Tuesday, hopefully we'll get the result we're after and show improvement again. Then we'll go down to Auckland, there's a sea of red there and everything builds up.
“The strength of the collective group is going to be phenomenal. Let's see what we can bring when we bring a togetherness.”