Andy Farrell: Lions must show ‘clear pictures’ to avoid harsh decisions
‘His department of defence has had a couple of impressive Saturday performances’
British and Irish Lions defence coach Andy Farrell talks to the forwards during training. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Andy Farrell’s enthusiasm as the ultra-intense Lions tour of New Zealand reaches the half-way point is infectious. There’s been no let-up, but the Irish and two-time Lions defence coach has embraced the difficult and daunting schedule, and says the same is true for the rest of the coaching and management staff.
“We’re loving it as coaches,” he said on the eve of tomorrow’s final game before the first test against the Chiefs. “We’re busy. We’re in it constantly. We’re finding it fantastic, that’s what it’s all about; one team, one squad. The correlation between the game tomorrow and the first Test is very close anyway with the way the Chiefs want to play the game.”
His own department of defence has had a couple of impressive back to back Saturday performances, restricting the Crusaders to just three points and a talented Maori team to 10 points, and just one line break.
“We’re becoming very cohesive, there’s an identity to it, we’ve got to stand for something. We’re forcing a few errors, we’re as physical as we should be but is there room for improvement? Yes, and so there should be.”
The Lions’ defence has been built on aggressive line speed, big hits and an increased ability to slow down opposition ruck ball, which was particularly evident in last Saturday’s win over the Maori All Blacks when the Lions regularly got over the ball, notably Sean O’Brien.
“I’m sure you’ve seen some physical hits, some strong defensive breakdown work. We’ve put some pressure on the ball, so we’ve earned the right to give line speed. And on the back of that we’ve also been good at adjusting. So again we’re still developing that, but it’s coming good.”
As the first test against the best side in the world at this time, and possibly any other time, the enthusiasm and work ethic of the players is also clear.
“They enjoy it, they buzz off one another,” said Farrell. “They want to show their intent, and that’s building nicely. Look at our squad, the All Blacks are the best team in the world and rightly so, they’re an unbelievable side.
“Our squad is full of winners, it’s full of guys who are used to winning and know how to win. They’re in a new side that’s been developing over the last four weeks. And I think we’re going to be a hell of a side. We play this game on Tuesday, hopefully we’ll get the result we’re after and show improvement again.
“Then we’ll go down to Auckland, there’s a sea of red there. Everything builds up. The strength of the collective group is going to be phenomenal. Let’s see what we can bring when we bring a togetherness.”
The Crusaders and Maori games apart, one of the main areas of concern for Farrell and the coaching staff has been the penalty count, which a week ago in the defeat to the Highlanders was 12-7 against the Lions.
These included a couple of penalties for offside which Farrell agreed were given “a little bit harshly”, adding: "I’ve been looking for it and I’m still looking for it now. But it’s up to us to show a good picture.
“There’s a correlation of that which has to happen when the ball leaves the ground. The offside line ends when the nine picks up the ball. We want to make sure we show a clear picture. But we’ve got good referees going forward in the rest of the matches. It’s pretty obvious we want to play with line speed in defence.”
In attack, the Lions have not been converting line breaks into tries, with Farrell returning to Warren Gartland’s theme on Sunday that players have been blocked off the ball.
“It’s about staying alive and making sure sometimes you’ll get bumped but it’s about backing your pace. The good thing is the line breaks are happening, so we’ve got to make sure we’re not too gung ho in trying to finish these off. Part of that is communication, making sure you’re not gung-ho screaming for the pass when it’s not on just because you want the ball. It’s about making sure we identify who’s voice is calling it as well.”
Farrell also provided another positive update on his son Owen. “He seems to be all good, seems to have settled down. A couple of days’ rest and recuperation should see it right. We haven’t trained yet. The other boys will have a light hit-out today, orientation day for the rest of the week. Owen seems fine enough to take part in that.”
The Lions have also clarified that Leigh Halfpenny did not undergo an HIA during the win over the Maori, but showed symptoms after the match which have required him to undergo the Return to Play protocols.
“We don’t see too much of a problem with that,” said Farrell. “It’s just the process we have to go through.”