Re­vived Li­ons keen to take down High­landers

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

WELLING­TON: The Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons go into to­day’s tour match against the High­landers keen to build on a morale-boost­ing vic­tory over New Zealand’s strong­est Su­per Rugby fran­chise, but wary of yet an­other tricky ob­sta­cle in their jour­ney to­wards the Tests.

A slow start to the 10-match tour left many ob­servers fear­ing the Li­ons would be swat­ted aside by the All Blacks when the first of three Tests kicks off in Auck­land on June 24, but Satur­day’s dis­play has some­what changed that per­cep­tion.

The Li­ons were bru­tally ef­fi­cient in their work to nul­lify an un­beaten All Blacks-laden Cru­saders side 12-3 in Christchurch and coach War­ren Gat­land will be look­ing for a sim­i­lar per­for­mance against the High­landers in Dunedin.

Gat­land would have been im­pressed by a ma­jor­ity of the play­ers who over­came the Cru­saders and has named a com­pletely new start­ing 15 for to­day’s en­counter, as he works to­wards fi­nal­is­ing his strong­est line-up for the big­ger tests to come.

Tour cap­tain Sam War­bur­ton has shaken off an an­kle nig­gle to make just his sec­ond ap­pear­ance in New Zealand and the Wales back rower is des­per­ate to see the Li­ons build on the last re­sult and keep pro­gress­ing to­wards the tests.

“If we hadn’t won it would not have been the end of the world, we are still build­ing nicely, but it was re­ally good that we did for mo­men­tum,” the 28-year-old told re­porters.

“And now all the guys, down at the ground, we can’t wait to cheer them on, to clap them when they come back into the chang­ing-room and spend time to­gether, it does feel like an achieve­ment of the 41 (man squad).

“That is what’s spe­cial about Li­ons’ tours, and I can see the guys ab­so­lutely fin­ish them­selves to get that per­for­mance and we owe that back to them on Tues­day against the High­landers.

“So I am ex­pect­ing us to move on again and just keep nudg­ing on each game now.”

Gat­land’s men have three more out­ings be­fore the first Test and the coach has urged the play­ers to make his job of se­lect­ing a squad for that en­counter as dif­fi­cult as pos­si­ble.

“The play­ers for the High­landers game are well aware of the con­ti­nu­ity and mo­men­tum that has been cre­ated from the Cru­saders win, and want to con­tinue that,” he said.

“And for them to go out and per­form col­lec­tively and in­di­vid­u­ally, the chal­lenge is to put us un­der pres­sure as coaches for se­lec­tion for Satur­day and then ul­ti­mately for the first Test.”

Look­ing at the op­po­si­tion, the High­landers may only be ranked fourth of the five New Zealand fran­chises in this year’s Su­per Rugby tour­na­ment but the 2015 cham­pi­ons have won 10 of their 14 matches and are as­sured of at least a play-off berth.

They will also be bol­stered by the in­clu­sion of three All Blacks with hooker Liam Colt­man, fly­half Lima Sopoaga and wing Waisake Na­holo all in­cluded in coach Tony Brown’s side for the clash at the Otago Re­gional Sta­dium. – Reuters

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