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The British & Irish Lions have flown south, across the snow-capped Southern Alps, aware they have an increasing mountain to climb on tour in New Zealand. Some are billing their looming fixture with the Crusaders as a “fourth Test” on a par with facing Cameron Maybin Jersey the All Blacks and a second provincial defeat in four days would add to the pressure on Warren Gatland’s squad.
News that Sam Warburton has an ankle strain is another setback, with the tour captain having hurt himself in the opening game in Whangarei. His absence from the match-day squad to face the Crusaders does allow Sean O’Brien to stake his claim at openside but represents another headache for Gatland in an increasingly trying week.
The 22-16 defeat against the Blues on Wednesday has generated little external belief that the Lions are building towards a series win and the release of impressively strong All Blacks, Maori and Crusaders squads on the same day has not helped, either. When a young player as electric as the Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie cannot make even the All Blacks squad, let alone the starting lineup, New Zealand clearly have http://www.authentictigershop.com/authentic-cameron-maybin-jersey.html remarkable strength in depth.
At least the Lions have responded by naming their strongest side so far. Under the leadership of Alun Wyn Jones, the third successive Welsh captain named by Gatland, this is a team with a serious edge to it, with the first-choice half-backs Conor Murray and Owen Farrell also united for the first time and Liam Williams on the wing.
Gatland has stuck to his promise to give every player at least one start in the opening three games, with George North and Jonathan Davies featuring for the first time on this trip. Nine of the XV were involved on the victorious 2013 tour and have enough experience to know that Lions tours are defined by the last three weekends rather than the opening stanzas.
At least two thirds of this XV would appear to have a good chance of starting the first Test, although Gatland is insisting he has not yet commenced those deliberations, saying: “The players are going to get one or two chances before we start thinking about that. We haven’t spoken about Test combinations.” Plenty of others continue to do so on his behalf, however, and the centre Andy Janovich Youth Jersey pairing of Ben Te’o and Davies is just one area set to be closely monitored by all concerned.
What no one disputes is that Farrell is maturing into a top-notch international player and Gatland has been as impressed as anyone. “I’ve seen a massive development in him in the last four years,” the head coach said. “I think he’s been one of the top players in the northern hemisphere for the last two years. He’s a good age, he’s matured and he’s calm and confident.”
The fly-half himself is also not the sort to be fazed by a little adversity, particularly in a city that has had to show such extraordinary resilience in the face of the earthquake devastation from which the region is still recovering.
“Obviously you have to be mentally strong because of the standard of the opposition,” Farrell said. “We’ve got to have our wits about us, we’ve got to be in the game constantly. You can’t afford to have periods where you’re not on your mettle http://www.officialauthenticbroncostore.com/Nike-Bennie-Fowler-Jersey.html against teams like this.”
With the Highlanders, the Maori and the Chiefs also to come between now and the first Test on 24 June, Farrell concedes the touring team would not want to suffer five successive losses at this psychologically important stage: “I don’t think we would, no. You’ve got to take confidence from how you perform but that also comes from how you train, how you act and how you play. Games can be tipped on a knife edge sometimes, as you saw [on Wednesday]. It was a first outing for a lot of boys and I thought apart from the result it was a step in the right direction.”
That is a slightly debatable conclusion given the way the Lions’ discipline and execution began to fray in the second half. They conceded far too many “soft” penalties for Gatland’s liking and also made the mistake of compounding one error with another. “We need to make sure we’re a bit smarter than that,” Gatland said. “[Wednesday’s] result was disappointing. We know we can’t afford to give away so many penalties.”
The Lions will certainly need to raise their game to cope with a strong-looking Crusaders side captained by Sam Whitelock and containing a posse of All Blacks. “We are facing some of the best rugby players in the world but we have some of the world’s best in this team, too,” the head coach, Scott Robertson, said. “No matter how it unfolds, this will be a game the players involved will remember as one of the special moments in their careers.”