Can Lions lay down a marker?

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

AUCK­LAND: The Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions’ open­ing match of their tour of New Zealand against the Provin­cial Bar­bar­ians to­mor­row will be keenly watched for many rea­sons, but for cap­tain Sam Warburton it will be more about shak­ing out the cob­webs. The 28-year-old Welsh­man came into the tour un­der a cloud, hav­ing sus­tained a knee in­jury while play­ing for Cardiff a lit­tle less than two months ago and given a six-week re­cov­ery time. Warburton beat the clock and was able to train with the squad in their pre-tour camps be­fore the side left for New Zealand but he still felt that he would need to run him­self back into match fit­ness over the next cou­ple of weeks.

“It’s re­ally nice to get the ball rolling,” Warburton told re­porters in Auck­land yes­ter­day. “I will need a good few games be­fore I start hit­ting my straps but we all know that ev­ery game is a mas­sive au­di­tion for the Test matches.”

Coin­ci­den­tally, his knee in­jury could have prompted a sense of deja vu for the loose for­ward.

Named to lead the Lions on their pre­vi­ous tour to Aus­tralia in 2013, the then 24-year-old had to sit out the open­ing two fix­tures due to a knee in­jury.

He did not ap­pear un­til the third game against the Reds and by that stage was itch­ing to get his hands on his first Lions jersey.

“It re­ally felt I was chas­ing it four years ago. I was the last guy on the tour to play a fix­ture so it’s nice to get a jersey in the kit bag,” he said.

“Last time I was con­stantly pan­ick­ing about when I was go­ing to get a game and whether I was go­ing to pull through.

“You are al­ways a bit ner­vous of that ... so I’m re­ally pleased to be in­volved in the first one.”

Warburton’s side have ar­rived in New Zealand with huge ex­pec­ta­tions but only one other Lions team, Car­wyn James’s 1971 side, have clinched a se­ries against the All Blacks.

Con­se­quently the open­ing match against play­ers from New Zealand’s semi-pro­fes­sional provin­cial com­pe­ti­tion will be eagerly watched as a sign of what to ex­pect from the tour­ing party.

Can they send a mes­sage to the rugby-mad New Zealand pub­lic with a per­for­mance that shows they mean busi­ness?

Do they have the depth re­quired to get through an ar­du­ous tour that in­cludes matches against all five Su­per Rugby teams?

Will they have enough time to gel com­bi­na­tions be­fore the first Test in Auck­land on June 24?

De­spite the lim­ited build-up as play­ers fil­tered into the train­ing camps due to club com­mit­ments, coach Warren Gat­land said he had cho­sen his side last week and they had spent much of it train­ing to­gether.

“It’s a great op­por­tu­nity for the play­ers se­lected for the first match is to go out and lay down a marker,” New Zealan­der Gat­land said.

“I think every­one wants to be in­volved in the Test matches so it’s a chance for this 23 to go out there and do that and get the tour off to a good start.”

Gat­land, how­ever, was re­minded how se­ri­ous the tour was be­ing taken with the se­lec­tion of the team to face the Bar­bar­ians al­ready de­scribed as “a sham­bles”.

“The open­ing se­lec­tions of the tour is a sham­bles,” Bri­tish rugby colum­nist Mark Rea­son, who now lives in New Zealand, wrote for Fair­fax Me­dia. “It is para­mount that he finds his com­bi­na­tions as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“Gat­land only has two more Satur­days af­ter this one be­fore the first Test. He needs to start find­ing his com­bi­na­tions or the All Blacks will take his team apart.” – Reuters

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.