The Ireland loosehead prop made his Lions debut at Eden Park yesterday but it was a losing one as the Blues edged home 22-16 in an Auckland thriller.
After a disappointing opening win over the Provincial Barbarians, this reversal to the lowest-ranked of New Zealand’s five Super Rugby franchises the tourists will face in the next five weeks, does not bode well and merely underlines just how difficult it will be if the 2017 squad is to emulate their 1971 predecessors with a series victory over the All Blacks.
Yet the Leinster loosehead preferred to take an alternative view, echoing head coach Warren Gatland by saying the Lions needed just this calibre of opposition to toughen up for the first Test on June 24.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” McGrath said. “We’re not looking at it as a daunting task but an opportunity. A lot of teams, a lot of Lions teams come over here and struggle and we don’t really want to be one of them.
“I suppose tonight would probably say the opposite but I think in areas we did really well and it probably was just our discipline. Again, one or two things go our way and it’s a different game but we are confident that we just have to move on.”
The Lions arrived in Christchurch overnight to prepare for Saturday’s AMI Stadium clash with Super Rugby’s unbeaten standings leaders the Crusaders.
Yet if the Lions were to lose for the second game in succession, it would be worth it in McGrath’s view if it led to glory against the All Blacks.
“I think so. This is another building block for us,” he said of defeat to the Blues. “They are a tough side, there’s a lot of internationals in the team. To get it right further down the line and lose maybe one or two on the way, we definitely take that, yeah.”
Fellow Irish debutant CJ Stander was also in positive mood despite the losing start to his Lions career. The Munster back rower scored his side’s only try of the game, touching down a driving maul in the first half as the Lions pack exerted its dominance over the Blues forwards.
Yet that was one of the few areas of satisfaction for the tourists and Stander said: “We’re frustrated. The good thing is there are a lot of work-ons and things that we can fix this week.
“They were good. If we make a mistake they’re going to punish us, and they did exactly that. They played for the 80 minutes and they scored an unbelievable try at the end. So we just need to control the game better.
“I think a lot of boys got new caps. A lot of guys got a chance to mix together and gel together as a team. I think our driving maul was quite good, and our scrummaging was good, and our backline played well. So, we need to just control the game, but there were a lot of positives out of it.”
Stander cherished his try-scoring debut for the Lions, describing as “unbelievable”.
“A win would have made it even sweeter, but you can’t always get what you want. But it was great to put the jersey on, and just get out there with the boys.”
Of his five-pointer at Eden Park, he added: “Ah, it’s not really my try. It was for the forwards, It was mostly down to Maro (Itoje) and Courtney Lawes, and the props in front.
“I think the forwards played well and we worked hard as a forward pack to get over the gain line and look after the ball. I think we gave away a few penalties at line-out time, and a few times we didn’t look after the ball, but I think when we got stuck into them we showed our character and we worked hard for each other.
“That’s a positive we can take into the next few games.”