Lions' Queenstown diversion could raise a few eyebrows
Scheduled break may seem curious but Lions following a familiar script to previous years
Alun Wyn Jones shakes hands with TJ Perenara after winning thesecond Test in Wellington. Photograph: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
There’ll probably be raised eyebrows at the decision by the Lions to take a couple of days off and sample the delights and activities of Queenstown in all its spectacular glory. No doubt the All Blacks will be straight back to work in a bid to right their first home defeat in 46 games, and comparisons have been drawn with a simple detour by Ireland after nearly beating the All Blacks in the second test in Christchurch, whereupon they lost the third test 60-0 in Hamilton.
Then again, Ireland also took in Queenstown at the start of the 2011 World Cup, whereupon they won all four pool matches.
Four years ago, the Lions did something very similar when stopping off in Noosa prior to the third test in Sydney, which didn’t stop them beating Australia in the series decider.
“They need to switch off,” insists scrum coach Graham Rowntree. “We’ve done it consistently for the last two Lions tours. A few days off after the second Test - because they’re tired. We’ve worked them hard. They know they have to look after themselves and get back ready for work. They’ve got to train in Queenstown as well. They’re thoroughly diligent players and they’ll be ready to train when we need them to.”
Alun Wyn Jones was made captain on their return to Sydney when Warren Gatland and his assistants opted to omit Brian O’Driscoll, on top of losing Sam Warburton as well as Paul O’Connell to injury.
In that respect, for him at least, Jones said: “I think it’s completely different as I was stepping into the breach where people were injured. I think I was third choice so I’m very well aware I was at the back of the queue for that.”
As for the detour to Noosa, he added: “For the large part, when we did that, nothing changed. We know the intensity and what’s at stake will go up again like it did four years ago. Very little will change you imagine.
“At this stage of the tour you have to enjoy the moment, but it’s a level series which is all it is at the minute. We responded to our performance from last week, and no doubt they will do the same next week. So we need to build on Saturday and be ready for what they’ve got next week.”
Warren Gatland had put it up to his players, none more so than Jones, by saying they needed to show some pride after being outmuscled by the All Blacks in the first Test.
“If you look at the games we’ve played previously, probably the Crusaders game particularly, we showed elements of what we can do as a pack. We had to answer questions again and on the back of those comments last week, I felt we did that.”
Gatland had also retained faith in Jones, although his performance was not motivated by the show of loyalty. “I’m not sure about returning the faith. Individual people make packs and when you do your individual role in that you get a complete pack. For the large part there was a lot of that, particularly in the first half. We were stretched going down to equal 14 men with the yellow card and they were in the ascendancy in the first 15, or 20 minutes in the second half but we were able to weather the storm. As a pack we were trying to stick to what we do.”
Asked if this was the biggest game of his career, Jones quipped: “You probably asked me that four years ago. Today was pretty big, I said that before and I’m sure the same thing will be raised throughout the week. We’ve really got to make sure we enjoy it because I’ve had similar occasions before and probably not enjoyed it as much as I can. We’ll get the best out of everyone if we do enjoy it.”
Explaining that isn’t always the case, Jones added: “Well work sometimes becomes an obsession doesn’t it? So we’ve just got to make sure we enjoy it.”
Being 31, on his third Lions tour, should make that easier and when asked how to do that, he responded. “Realise where I am, what I’ve done, where I’m going and it’s likely to be the last time I’m with the Lions. I’m 25 now,” he joked, smiling, “and people retire when they’re 30 these days. So, I’ll enjoy it.”