Monday 19 February 2018

Haskell backs Daly to cope with busy schedule and Lions debut

James Haskell has backed Wasps team-mate Elliot Daly to handle the seven-day gap between the 100-minute Premiership final and his potential British and Irish Lions debut.

England centre Daly has been promoted to the Lions' bench for Saturday's tour opener against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, answering the call after Jared Payne's calf strain.

The 24-year-old ran in a try and played the full 100 minutes in Wasps' extra time 23-20 defeat to Exeter Chiefs in last weekend's Premiership final - and now finds himself whisked into a whirlwind Lions bow.

Wasps flanker Haskell insisted Daly would be fully ready to feature this weekend however, despite that marathon final - and also only arriving in New Zealand on Wednesday.

"He'll be fine - we keep saying we'll train at 70 per cent to ease ourselves in, but the boys are going at 200 per cent," said Haskell.

"And the eagerness, desire and excitement around wanting to play, it's difficult to put a lid on it.

"I think however tired Elliot might have felt, as soon as he had the chance to play, he's bursting out of himself for it.

"As soon as I started training, I felt fine. I turned up after the weekend barely able to walk having played 100 minutes of rugby in that final.

"But then you come here, remember it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, and you just get on with it.

"He's young, he hasn't been playing as long as some of the boys, so he'll definitely just get on with it."

Those Lions who will not play this weekend spent Friday conducting community visits on the drive from Auckland to Whangarei.

Saturday's match squad completed one visit before heading off to continue preparations, while the rest of the tourists visited schools and hospitals - but were also challenged by Lions management to get to know the country.

Among the quirky challenges were to spend time at a location of their choice meeting locals - but also seek out a contender for an impromptu 'best pie' competition.

Kit man Patrick 'Rala' O'Reilly was due to adjudicate on the pie contest as the Lions mixed important community work with a light-hearted edge.

Haskell, Jack Nowell and Sean O'Brien dropped into Whangarei Boys' High School, where local students welcomed them with a haka.

The trio then answered questions and mingled with locals, with Haskell as ever wowing the audience with insightful anecdotes.

Head coach Warren Gatland has told his Lions to shock New Zealand on this 10-match tour, with the home public fully expecting a Test series of All Blacks dominance.

A recent poll in New Zealand showed 78 per cent of those quizzed could not name a single Lions player, but Haskell was left unmoved by the news.

Haskell enjoyed a stint with Super Rugby outfit the Highlanders in 2012, and insisted there is no malice in the natural Kiwi leaning not to keep up to speed with rugby events around the globe.

"When I lived over here I learned the Kiwis just focus on New Zealand, but there's genuinely nothing in that, that's just how people here are," said Haskell.

"We've played sides before and I know they couldn't necessarily name players, but that's not important.

"If we play well there's no doubt people will take notice."

Haskell indulged the crowd with a story or two on Harlequins prop Kyle Sinckler, who will make his Lions debut on Saturday - before hailing the England front-rower's mix of fan passion and top-level focus.

"It's fantastic for Kyle to start this weekend," said Haskell.

"He's a mixed bag, because he has this funny persona but he's also a rugby aficionado.

"He knows famous Lions speeches off by heart, he watches Living with Lions on Youtube almost every night. So for him to be a part of this, I know how much it means to him.

"It's great because he balances that all out with having a big personality, but he's desperate to perform, he's desperate to play well, he really cares about what he's doing."

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