Sam Warburton would happily accept an early tour defeat or two for his British & Irish Lions if it meant the tourists could win their Test series with the All Blacks, writes Simon Lewis, Auckland.
The Lions will kick off their 10-match tour of New Zealand in Whangarei on Saturday against the NZ Provincial Barbarians with captain Warburton eager to be involved from the start as he makes his comeback frm a knee injury that has kept the Welshman sidelined since April 7.
The 41-man squad arrived in Auckland on Wednesday morning local time after a layover in Melbourne and wil have to hit the ground running 72 hours later against a scratch side of club players.
The build-up to the first Test on June 24 also includes games against four Super Rugby franchises and the New Zealand Maori but Warburton believes the Tests have to be the Lions' primary focus as they chase a first series victory here since the one and only success in 1971.
"One hundred percent yes,” the skipper said at a welcome media conference in Auckland. “It's important you win (non-Test games) and you do get a good feeling in the camp when you win games, but realistically these next three or four weeks are going to be big learning weeks for us."
That said, Warburton knows how important creating a winning mentality at the earliest opportunity will be key to defeating the world champions.
Style will not matter and he added: "Just go out and win, I don't care how we win
“If we won every game 3-0, I'd bite your arm off, so it's all about winning at this level - obviously it's nice from a spectator's point of view, fans ... to have a great spectacle ... but I'll take a win all day long."
Warburton's words echoed those of head coach Warren Gatland, who on arrival at Auckland airport earlier in the day said: "Who remembers the midweek games, the other games?
"It's all about winning the test series.So if we drop a game or two on the way, as we're looking at combinations or trying things out, it's not going to be the end of the world."
Warburton had been at the forefront as the Lions were greeted at the airport with a traditional Maori welcome, known as powhiri, and he took part in a nose-rubbing ceremony (hongi), with a Maori warrior. He was also one of the handful of Welsh-speaking players leading the squad in a rendition of the hymn Calon Lan.