The British & Irish Lions returned to the training field relaxed, rested and ready to take themselves to the higher level they believe will be necessary to beat the All Blacks in Saturday’s series-deciding final Test at Eden Park.
Appropriately enough given the size of the task awaiting them when they arrive in Auckland, needing to be the first side since France in 1994 to beat New Zealand at Eden Park in order to match only their 1971 predecessors by winning a series here, the Lions began their final preparations at mountain resort high in the Southern Alps against the magnificent backdrop of a range of peaks called The Remarkables.
It would take something close to that description to topple the world champions for a second week in succession when Steve Hansen’s side will be back to their full complement of 15 players having played 55 minutes of last Saturday’s 24-21 defeat minus the red-carded Sonny Bill Williams. Yet by removing themselves from the fray and taking a detour to Queenstown while New Zealand returned straight to Auckland after the second Test, may be just the right course of action as the Lions steel themselves for the challenge ahead.
The Lions arrived here on Sunday night and were given two days off to recharge their batteries and enjoy the variety of activities offered to holidaymakers here in this winter season. Skiing was for obvious reasons kept off the itinerary but some players were taken by helicopter up to the Remarkables, while others preferred to relax in the town with their families before business was resumed overnight Irish time.
Hooker Jamie George, who appears set to be retained for his third Test start in what could be an unchanged Lions XV when Warren Gatland names his matchday squad at 8pm this evening Irish time, believes that while last Saturday’s victory in the rain was a massive confidence booster, there is still plenty to work on, not least a penalty count that rose to 13 in 80 minutes, eight of them in the second half, when prop Mako Vunipola was also shown a yellow card.
“We take a huge amount (from last Saturday’s win),” George, 26, said. “You need to look at the manner in which we did it. We made it very difficult for ourselves at times with our discipline I don’t think many teams can say they’ve come back from 18-9 down in those conditions to win the game so we’re really happy with that. Lots to move forward on now to try and build some momentum going into next week.
“The manner of these sort of games, you’re always going to be very eager and over-eager at times and if you look at the nature of the penalties — offsides and a lot of them at the breakdowns — just being overeager.
“Potentially there’s a lot to be said for being a bit more relaxed now we’ve got a win under our belts, and not chasing it. Maybe we’ll be aware of that and make a change.” The Saracens front rower, who is still yet to start a Test for England, said the Lions had taken a big step forward from the previous week’s first Test defeat at Eden Park by bringing the physical intensity they had desperately lacked. It was a response to the demands of head coach Gatland and his forwards coach Steve Borthwick and scrum coach Graham Rowntree to show some pride in their performance.
“We knew that we needed to be dominant up front if we were going to be anywhere near to beating the All Blacks and I thought that we did that, the way that the boys fronted up.
“Warren and Steve and Graham Rowntree set down a platform for us and said that we really needed to step up our physicality, not only at the set-piece but around the field, especially in the tight five, and it was great to be a part of that tight five.
“It’s about taking it to another level now. We’ve managed to level the series but we know that the All Blacks will be hurting and will come back firing so we need to be able to take ourselves to a place we’ve never been before, mentally and physically.”
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