Andy Farrell believes Sam Warburton is “battle-hardened” and improving day by day as the British and Irish Lions captain inches towards the Test match squad.
That background may ensure a certain amount of friendliness between the backroom staffs tomorrow, but the match itself will be played in the fiercest of spirits as the Lions, who beat the New Zealand Maori 32-10 on Saturday, look for another morale-boosting win to take into the three-Test series.
That possibility was also in the mind of Chiefs coach Dave Rennie who said he expected the Lions would be desperate to push their cases for test consideration against his team.
Despite that decision, Gatland has refused to accept he had split the touring party into a “midweek” and “test” team. “It’s part of the game in New Zealand, all New Zealand teams are doing it at the moment. we’ve just got to hope the referees, assistant referees and the TMOs pick up what’s going on”.
“(It will) give us quality training numbers to prepare properly as well as offering us options for selection for the Chiefs match”.
But the fact they are in the midweek team, playing just four days before the first Test can not be ignored and Tommy Seymour’s place on the bench on Tuesday suggests his chances of featuring against the All Blacks are slim.
Unless Gatland drastically changes his tactics and personnel in the next seven days the All Blacks will be well aware of what they can expect at Eden Park.
“One of the things with George is it’s a target for all out wingers to try and get 15 touches of the ball because it tends to make a difference”, Gatland said.
Watching the All Blacks dismantle Samoa in their warm-up Test last Friday night, scoring 12 tries during a game in which they ceded the majority of territory and possession to the Pacific Islanders certainly caught Farrell’s attention. “There will be some tough debates and discussions to have on the final make-up of what the back-row is going to be for Saturday”. “I’ve no doubt he will be 100 per cent fit”.
Flanker James Haskell, meanwhile, who is set to start against the Chiefs, has dismissed suggestions that head coach Warren Gatland’s six controversial call-ups have eroded harmony in the camp.
“We’ve looked at certain aspects of the Maori game”, he said.
The Chiefs are captained by 2011 Rugby World Cup victor Stephen Donald.
The Lions’ wins over the Crusaders and the Maori All Blacks have been based around the speed of their defensive line, handing their opponents little-to-no space to work with and, importantly, nullifying the chances to score points from.
“Generally his kicking game has been pretty good, he attacked the line, put us into some holes and he played flat too, which was better compared to Damian McKenzie, who tended to play pretty deep”.