British and Irish Lions are in for the fight of their lives

The 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia was a success.  Led by coach Warren Gatland and captained by Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones, the Lions recorded a 2-1 victory.  Fast forward to 2017 and Gatland has returned, in addition to coaches Andy Farrell and Rob Howley, for the trip down to New Zealand.  However, as Gatland prepares to meet his fellow countrymen, he knows this is going be tougher than anything he and his players have ever faced before.

There is new blood in the coaching set-up with Steve Borthwick, the England forwards coach coming in, following the excellent work he has done with Eddie Jones over the past 12 months.  It’s important to mix things up and have fresh ideas and Borthwick will bring this to the party but perhaps the biggest issue facing the Lions will be the demanding schedule which awaits them.

There will be a total of ten matches played on the tour and the first one will take place only a week after the Premiership and Pro12 finals, which is less than ideal preparation.  The players may have to fly out in separate groups and meet up once in New Zealand, which is not entering in to the spirit of playing for the Lions.  The group should start the tour together and end the tour together and although it may seem like a minor issue, as it’s only travelling, the flight is long and it gives time for players to talk, interact and look forward to the challenges which lie ahead.

Scheduling of matches concerns

Many domestic rugby coaches, especially of English clubs have raised concerns about the scheduling of matches and in what state their players will be when they arrive home.  However, for the Lions staff and players, once they step onto the Eden Park pitch for the first test match, any thoughts about domestic rugby will be far away, as the New Zealand team commence the Haka.  In truth, the thoughts of the Lions players cannot afford to be on anything other than the match, as they have only ever won once in New Zealand, in eleven attempts.

The All Blacks consider playing the Lions as being the ultimate test, Gatland knows that and he has already been in New Zealand preparing, almost 12 months in advance of the tour taking place.  With time being an issue in terms of getting his players together, the simplicity of Gatland’s game plan will be a bonus, rather than a hindrance and he can get his ideas across to players within a short space of time.  This will be crucial because the All Blacks are going to be 100% ready come the first test and if the Lions are not, they could be blown away.

It may be a cliché to say the first match is important but it is and not just in terms of winning.  Even if the Lions lose the first test, if they stay in the game and remain close to New Zealand, this will give them the belief they can win the next match.  If they are comfortably defeated, it will be difficult to raise themselves for the second test.

There is no doubt the British and Irish Lions are in for the fight of their lives against a tremendous New Zealand team.  Can they succeed where so many other have failed and return with a series victory? Let us know?

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