Steve Hansen has been talking a good game throughout this British & Irish Lions tour to New Zealand and the All Blacks coach is ensuring his team does not take tomorrow’s second Test as a foregone conclusion following their series-opening victory.
The bookmakers, pundits and, it seems, many among the vast army of Lions supporters spending small fortunes to watch this once-in-a-dozen-years’ odyssey believe the 2017 series will be over by the time their brethren back home start contemplating brunch tomorrow.
Hansen probably does too but on the few occasions he has presided over a losing All Blacks side, and of course the most recent experience was at the hands of Ireland in Chicago last November, he has seen the determination among the vanquished to right some wrongs and he is preparing his players for a Lions onslaught in Wellington after their 30-15 Eden Park win last Saturday.
“Quality teams don’t lie down. They stand up and get counted,” Hansen said. “Losing hurts. It sucks. It’s not a great idea, and it comes with a lot of pain, so you don’t want to do it, especially when you are a quality team, because you are not used to it.
“I think they will come with everything they’ve got, and we need to be prepared for that and bring everything we’ve got to match it.
“The last Test was a beauty, and with a little bit more luck and finish, they could have easily won the Test match. They know that, and they will be coming here with a do-or- die attitude. We have got to front up on Saturday. It’s okay doing it once, we have got to do it again.”
Hansen’s coaching rival Warren Gatland has demanded his players up their game after being outmuscled in the scrum and at the breakdown by Kieran Read’s team last week, calling on the Lions to use their wounded pride and front up this time around, having failed to do so in Auckland.
Yet while the heads, hearts, and bodies of this Lions team are undoubtedly prepared for the extra effort required to go toe-to-toe with the world champions, who themselves are almost guaranteed to improve on last week’s performance, actually turning round that deficit in breakdown intensity from one week to the next is another matter.
“Yeah, it’s difficult,” tour captain Sam Warburton said after he was named Test skipper at Peter O’Mahony’s expense yesterday.
“We all accept it and realise that it’s probably the first game on tour that we were beaten in the battle at the breakdown, from a physicality point of view. So, we’ve accepted that, but that’s just going to fuel the fire for this Saturday. So if anything I think before the game on Saturday and after the captain’s run (yesterday), it’s probably going to be having to try and bring the boys down a little and make sure we’re keeping clear heads.
“Because for this game, while it is must-win and there’s lots of games which are must-win, but this is actually must-win, the motivational levels are going to be extremely high, so if anything it’s trying to keep the lads composed and make sure we execute the game plan as good as possible because motivation is not going to be a problem.” Gatland has brought in Warburton in a bid to restore parity at the breakdown after the Lions were consistently second best in their collisions with the All Blacks at Eden Park, ceding the gainline throughout as the likes of Brodie Retallick, Jerome Kaino and captain Read bashed through a thin red line. Warburton has been tasked with changing the dynamic, alongside fellow newcomer Maro Itoje, who replaces George Kruis at lock, although the captain understands a balance has to be found between bringing extra physicality and tempering ill-discipline and that heightened emotion he spoke about dialling back down.
“The two big points that came out this week were the games where we’ve done well, which were the Maori and the Crusaders, we kept the penalty count to single figures which wasn’t the case last Saturday.
“In rugby it’s very much a case of 99 times out of 100 the more physical side wins. People might not like to hear that but it is the truth. Being physical doesn’t mean beating people up, it means your scrum is dominant, your lineout is dominant, your breakdown is dominant and that’s the majority of the game really, apart from the kicking side.
“That has to improve this weekend, I think the guys that have been brought in can add a bit of strength to that. Maro’s great on the floor as well, a great lineout athlete and I’m looking forward to see him go.
“For me personally, it’s the first time I’ve played with (openside flanker) Sean O’Brien, I’ve played against him many times and I’ve been in the same Lions squad as him twice but I’ve never had the privilege of playing with him. He’s somebody who I regard as one of the best sevens I’ve played against really, so I’m looking forward to that partnership.”
If all goes to plan, the Lions forwards will relish the territory gains from the boots of Conor Murray and a new starting 10-12 partnership of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell but it is down to Warburton and his pack to lay the foundations, which means a bigger impact at both the scrum and breakdown.
If they fail to up the physicality from the levels on display at Eden Park last week, then yet another Lions tour to the Long White Cloud could be blown away in windy Wellington.
I Dagg; W Naholo, A Lienert-Brown, SB Williams, R Ioane; B Barrett, A Smith; J Moody, C Taylor, O Franks; B Retallick, S Whitelock; J Kaino, S Cane, K Read – captain.
N Harris, W Crockett, C Faumuina, S Barrett, A Savea, TJ Perenara, A Cruden, N Laumape.
BRITISH & IRISH LIONS:
L Williams; A Watson, J Davies, O Farrell, E Daly; J Sexton, C Murray; M Vunipola, J George, T Furlong; A W Jones, M Itoje; S Warburton – captain, S O’Brien, T Faletau.
K Owens, J McGrath, K Sinckler, C Lawes, CJ Stander, R Webb, B Te’o, J Nowell.
Jerome Garces (France).
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