It’s All Blacks or noth­ing for Lions

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

AUCK­LAND: The Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions wasted lit­tle time spell­ing out their pri­or­i­ties when they touched down at Auck­land Air­port for the 10-match tour of New Zealand yes­ter­day, promis­ing to fo­cus their col­lec­tive en­ergy on beat­ing the All Blacks.

The three-match se­ries against the world cham­pi­ons is the fo­cal point of the tour and vic­tory in those en­coun­ters is what the Lions covet most, even if that means los­ing to New Zealand’s five Su­per Rugby fran­chises and the Maori All Blacks.

“It is im­por­tant you win (games out­side the tests) and you do get a good feel­ing in the camp when you win games, but re­al­is­ti­cally these next three­four weeks are go­ing to be big learn­ing weeks for us,” cap­tain Sam War­bur­ton told re­porters at his ar­rival me­dia con­fer­ence in Auck­land.

“Ideally we’d like to win all those games, but if we just keep get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter, then that’s good.”

Coach War­ren Gat­land added that vic­tory in the test se­ries would be the true marker of whether the team were a suc­cess.

“It’s all about win­ning the test se­ries,” the New Zealan­der said. “So if we drop a game or two on the way, as we’re look­ing at com­bi­na­tions or try­ing things out, it’s not go­ing to be the end of the world.”

The Lions face the Pro­vin­cial Bar­bar­ians in their tour opener in Whangarei on Satur­day, where Gat­land’s son Bryn is likely to start at fly­half for the op­po­si­tion.

“I haven’t spo­ken to Bryn for a few days,” Gat­land told TVNZ.

“We spoke last week and... I asked him to give me all their calls and moves and he said ‘as long as you let me run through a big hole in the first few min­utes I’d be happy with that’.

“It’s great for him... and I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to the next few days and catch­ing up with Bryn on Satur­day.”

The Lions then face the Auck­land Blues next Wed­nes­day in the first of three clashes against Su­per Rugby teams, be­fore a match against the Maori All Blacks in Ro­torua on June 17, where Gat­land is ex­pected to field his pre­ferred first test side.

The open­ing test against the world cham­pi­ons is at Eden Park on June 24, and while War­bur­ton was keen for his side to play at­trac­tive rugby on the tour, win­ning was their main fo­cus.

“I don’t care how we win. If we won ev­ery game 3-0, I’d bite your arm off, so it’s all about win­ning at this level,” he added.

“Ob­vi­ously it’s nice from a spec­ta­tor’s point of view, fans... to have a great spec­ta­cle... but I’ll take a win all day long.”

The last Lions team to tri­umph in New Zealand was the 1971 tour cap­tained by John Dawes. – Reuters THE PER­FECT COACH: John Ham­lett has been the man be­hind four cham­pi­ons at the Com­rades Marathon in re­cent years and be­lives his club of run­ners will dom­i­nate again at this year’s race.

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