Lions defend lack of alcohol ban ahead of crucial series decider
The British and Irish Lions have defended their policy of not having a booze ban during their three day rest and recuperation camp in Queenstown, hitting back also at criticism that they have taken their foot off the gas with All Black flanker, Jerome Kaino, stating that he would ‘rather be training.”
The Lions believe that their ‘blueprint’ of giving the players time to refresh and socialise will reap the same rewards in Saturday’s series decider at Eden Park as it did on the 2009 and 2013 trips when the final test was won after similar down-time expeditions on safari in South Africa and to beach-resort Noosa in Queensland. The players have been given completely free rein to go out and do what they like, even drinking alcohol.
“We’ve not needed to put anything like that (booze ban) on the players,” said Paul Stridgeon, head of strength and conditioning.
“The players made their own rules at the start in conjunction with the coaches. They have been very professional and are all very switched on.
"We’ve not had to put a policy on the boys. We had a social night early on in the tour but that was very helpful for bonding. The tour has been very arduous for the boys. Every day off we’ve had, we’ve travelled. The boys haven’t had any proper days off, so it’s great to have the boys refreshed.
"The boys have been enjoying some activities, a bit of mental and physical recovery. We will start training on Wednesday to be ready to go for the weekend. It mirrors what we did in 2009 and 2013 when we had a recovery part for the start of the final week. That is our blueprint. We will definitely get something positive out of it. Whenever we’ve done it we’ve performed well.”
The Lions are also wary of getting over-wrought too early in the week. They will train in Queenstown on Wednesday, when they normally have a day off, before flying to Auckland that evening. In such a febrile atmosphere, with thousands more Lions supporters expected to fly in now for the third test, the squad are mindful that they can peak too soon in their mental preparations.
“It’s similar to 2013 when Andy Farrell spoke to the boys after losing the second Test,” said Stridgeon. “They all wanted to train on the Monday, and he made a comment that if we’d done that we’d have played our Test match by Friday.
"It’s mental refreshment so we won’t have played our game too early. We know that the players have been on the season 11 months. We think we can negate the effects of the travel and intensity by having this week.
"We’ve no concerns individually. We look at the players every morning, giving them a thorough monitoring before breakfast.
The Lions have been deprived of five players through injury – Stuart Hogg, Ross Moriarty, George North, Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw - a lower than normal casualty rate with the usual attrition levels seeing six to eight replacements being summoned.
And that is even though Stridgeon reports that the contact and intensity levels have increased since the last tour. The Lions have also tailored their conditioning programme to make sure that their fitness levels are at the same high standard as those of the All Blacks.
New Zealand invariably come through strongly in matches in the last 20 minutes. The Lions front-loaded their training sessions at the start of the tour, working the players harder than normal, so as to be ready for these challenges in the test series, particularly in the need to match the All Blacks stride-for-stride in the closing stages.
“The numbers (intensity and contact) are higher than we’ve ever seen but we’ve allowed for this,” said Stridgeon. “This is the level we need to be to beat the All Blacks.
"We feel each game the boys have been getting better and raising that intensity. We feel we took the All Blacks to a level in the second Test and we feel we’ll be able to go higher again this weekend. We’ve got a fit squad, a few bumps and bruises, but the boys are ready to go.
"We can be as intense as we want to be. We’ve got the momentum now. I think we can match them in that last 20 with this team and this group of players.”