The British and Irish Lions insist they will not be “drawn into silliness” tomorrow after being promised a physical welcome by opening Australia tour opponents Western Force.
Force skipper Matt Hodgson and scrum-half Brett Sheehan have both promised an uncompromising approach from the Super Rugby outfit, with Sheehan claiming: “We want it to be an extremely physical game. We want them to know they’ve been in a battle.”
Lions fly-half Owen Farrell retaliated to being struck in the face by his Saracens colleague Schalk Brits during last Saturday’s clash against the Barbarians in Hong Kong.
Farrell was initially penalised, but referee Steve Walsh reversed that decision and yellow-carded Brits when big screen replays revealed fully what he did. He was banned for three weeks the following morning.
The Lions’ discipline can expect to be further tested during their pre-first Test games Down Under, with the fixture against New South Wales the last time they visited Australia 12 years ago remembered as a particularly feisty encounter.
But Lions assistant coach and forwards specialist Graham Rowntree has underlined the paramount importance of maintaining discipline, while that message was also hammered home by head coach Warren Gatland to the players today.
“What we have spoken about is doing your job well, not getting drawn into things,” Rowntree said.
“There are enough opportunities in the game to be physical and put your mark on the game. The scrum, breakdown, tackles are all physical moments.
“We will be very strong internally. ’Gats’ spoke to the team this morning. We are here to play rugby, not to be drawn into silliness.
“They (players) know the sanctions in place if they overstep the mark. You are going to get banned, you could miss a tour if you are not switched on. They understand it perfectly.
“I think provocation is always there in a game. We want to play positive rugby. We have to be competitive and physical, but we have to play within the laws.
“We have to deal with the intensity of what the opposition are going to try and do. We have to get on with our game. We are here to play our game and worry about ourselves.
“What we can’t be doing is getting drawn into anything. We had a few issues around that on Saturday, and we can’t be drawn into anything here.
“If we are getting drawn into something, we’re not doing our job elsewhere - that is what I keep telling the forwards.
“I’ve said to them ’you all know your roles and you know you have to be in one place or another, not stood messing around, getting drawn into fights or intimidation’.
“We have to just get on with our game – we are being very strict on that.”
If the Lions’ quality of rugby does all their talking tomorrow, then they should record a comprehensive victory against opponents hamstrung in selection by having a Super Rugby fixture against NSW Waratahs next Sunday.
Force boss Michael Foley has had to juggle his selection resources as a result, but Rowntree says the Lions are concentrating totally on themselves.
“For these guys it is their first chance in a Lions shirt,” he added.
“Very quickly on a Lions tour you can go to the back of the queue if you don’t perform, so it is down to our guys to perform, irrelevant of who is on the field. If that amounts to a big win, then fantastic.
“There are a lot of familiar names in that (Force) pack who I have seen and who have played for Australia for us to respect. These guys have been playing and training together, and they will be more organised than the Barbarians.”
With 15 players having already started for the Lions on tour, another 15 get their opportunity to impress Gatland tomorrow, while the remaining seven are set for a chance against Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
Among tomorrow’s Lions line-up is Ireland hooker Rory Best, who was summoned barely 24 hours before the Lions left London following original selection Dylan Hartley’s sending-off in the Aviva Premiership final and subsequent ban.
Reflecting on his late tour call-up, Best said: “I was driving to our Ulster training ground to pick up a few bits and pieces to get ready to go to Carton House (near Dublin) on the Monday morning, and then on to Houston with Ireland.
“A phone call came in on my way to Belfast.
“This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Few people get to do it and you want to get out there, do your best and push to be selected for the three Tests. Everyone has the same mindset for that.
“Competition for places is what it’s all about. For me, whether I was selected in the initial (squad) or coming in late as I did, I am here and I’m getting a chance to play.”