Andy Farrell believes the late-arriving British & Irish Lions will be able to hit the ground running when they join the touring party bound for New Zealand at the weekend.
The misfortune of last weekend’s losing semi- finalists in England and the Guinness PRO12 has been a boost for Lions head coach Warren Gatland and his backroom team, with numbers rising from 14 at the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales last week to 30 of the 41 selected players participating at Carton House in Co Kildare this week.
That leaves 11 men who will not join the squad until Sunday, following the previous day’s PRO12 final, including Munstermen Conor Murray, Peter O’Mahony and CJ Stander, and Premiership and Champions Cup play-off deciders.
On the face of it, there might be concern among the absentees they will have a lot of catching up to do when they arrive in London ahead of the Monday night flight to Auckland but Lions defence coach Farrell believes they can make their presence felt with strong performances for their clubs.
“We’ll be watching those games and we wish them all the best. We hope they get stuck in and give a great account of themselves,” Farrell said. “We’ve got our fingers crossed that they stay fit and healthy and get on the plane, that’s what we want; we want everybody on that plane.
“The 14 guys who were in last week; they have helped the new guys who are coming in because they have got a head start. The more of those guys you’ve got, we’ve got 30 of them — when we get the next 11 to follow I expect that to be a lot easier than it has been over the last couple of weeks because this is the type of quality that we’ve got.
“They’re all leaders, they all know what they want to make their game a lot easier and that’s making sure that everyone’s on the same page.”
Farrell said in order to be successful the Lions would have to continuously get off on the good foot in training sessions, matches and when they assemble on Sunday in London after a positive week in Ireland.
“There’s been a lot of work done. You make sure that’s ingrained in you. You don’t come back on Sunday having not done your revision and having to go back over things. We have to keep hitting the ground running and moving onto a different level every single time we meet. Take stock of what we’ve done, how can you grab hold of it and make it instinctive and how can you make it better next week.”
The Lancastrian and former Wigan Rugby League legend had spoken of his “utter devastation” that followed the suicide bomb atrocity in Manchester on Monday night, saying the explosion at the Manchester Arena had been at a venue he had taken his children to.
“Our hearts and our prayers massively go out to the people of Manchester,” the 41-year-old said. “You just know that the people who live in the area they’ll all pull together and unite in this tragic event.”
Farrell had taken the question about Manchester at the start of his media conference and switching back to rugby matters had been far from easy, he admitted, saying: “From that question to a rugby question is quite hard to deal with really.”
Yet there were plenty of positives from a rugby perspective from these past four days at Carton House as the countdown to their showdown with the All Blacks continues and the cohesion of the Lions develops.
“We’ve had 30 players in this week, and the intensity has been a different level. The quality has been exceptional so far, and that only helps with our preparation. This morning’s session, we tried to disorientate the players a little bit, put them in pressure situations, difficult scenarios, and they handled it very calmly under extreme pressure.
“The quality has been outstanding. There are different (defensive) systems, but there are a few principles that are very much the same throughout the four nations and throughout world rugby. We will be on the same page, and that’s all that matters.”
Introducing a defensive system to players from four different countries in such a short amount of time before playing five Super Rugby franchises and the world champions over three Tests sounds like the tallest of orders but Farrell is taking the challenge in his stride.
“You’re talking about world class players who can adapt and change to whatever is thrown their way and they’ll be comfortable doing that.
“Let’s not forget, Warren has said the whole way through until this point that this is what Lions tours are about; that everyone will get a chance. I ain’t saying that we’re not going to hit the ground running, you’d hope for that, but even if we have a great performance and everybody says: ‘Whoa, the Lions have shown great skill, speed and tenacity in those first couple of games...’
“There’s always going to be stuff we need to work on and improve upon and get through anyway. It certainly happens when a team’s been together for a long time, never mind when it’s been together for 10 days.”
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