Graham Rowntree has underlined the British and Irish Lions’ ambition to raise the performance bar in their clash against Western Force tomorrow.
Four days after blitzing the Barbarians in hot and humid Hong Kong, an entirely-changed team will launch the Lions’ nine-game Australian tour schedule.
“I thought we set the bar fairly high on Saturday in difficult conditions,” Lions assistant coach Rowntree said today.
“A lot of our proven guys that have played a lot of games found those conditions harder than anything, harder than altitude or anything like that.
“In difficult conditions and our first hit-out together, the guys set a high standard, and tomorrow’s crew have got to move that bar up again.
“We’ve said to the guys the first three games everyone gets a start, so after the (Queensland) Reds game (on Saturday) I think we have got to start making some decisions on combinations and having a look at people.
“And certainly by the Waratahs and ACT (Brumbies) games, we need to know who we are going to start with in the (first) Test, but at this point in time there is everything there to play for for everyone.”
The Force are not at full strength – they back up the Lions game with a Super Rugby fixture against the Waratahs next Sunday – although their match-day group line-up still contains six Test players.
“We are very respectful of the opposition, but we will worry about getting our detail right and getting our calls and structures up and running. We’ve got to get combinations going,” Rowntree added.
“I think we’ve got a great group of players – it is an exceptional group.”
Ireland wing Tommy Bowe, meanwhile, has hailed the winning attitude and mentality of Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
Ulster star Bowe was a key performer in South Africa four years ago, shining as a wing and centre. Few players could have done more with regard to trying to stave off a painful 2-1 series defeat.
Bowe is now back for more after recovering from a serious injury earlier this season, and he is impressed with what he has seen as he prepares to face the Force.
“My main priority is to get picked in the Test squad, but I want to win. That has been the message from the outset,” he said.
“Warren is here to do a job, he is here to pick a team that’s going to go and win the series.
“He wants to be 2-0 up (in the series), and I think that is exciting for us as players because he’s breeding that confidence into us and I think it is really shining down throughout the squad.”
Assessing his team selection for tomorrow’s game, Force head coach Michael Foley said: “From the outset, we recognised the need to approach this week as an entire squad.
“To that end, every available member of our squad, a number from our wider training group and club players from Perth and elsewhere will get opportunities against the Lions and Waratahs.
“We’ve included some of our most experienced players to provide leadership against a Lions squad we have a great deal of respect for.
“The effort in training over the past week has shown how much Wednesday’s match means to this squad, and they will be determined against many of the best international players from the northern hemisphere.”
The six Test players chosen are Matt Hodgson, Salesi Ma’afu, Richard Brown, Brett Sheehan, Sam Norton-Knight and Alby Mathewson, who will provide scrum-half bench cover.