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'No bitching or moaning' - No-nonsense Farrell looks for defensive leaders

The Lions’ defence was superb against the Crusaders but there is more to come.

Murray Kinsella reports from Dunedin

BEFORE THE LIONS left for New Zealand, they agreed on one basic rule about their intensely demanding travel schedule.

No bitching or moaning.

They have already stayed in five different hotels since arriving in the country on 31 May and there will be no let-up in the coming days as they shift from Dunedin to Rotorua to Hamilton and back to Auckland.

Andy Farrell Farrell is a strong communicator. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It’s tough when attempting to prepare for games and training and analysis, of course, but the Lions have been sticking to their rule.

“You get on with it – this is the schedule,” says defence coach Andy Farrell, who works in the same role with Ireland. “We know the travel and you get on with it. That is what touring is all about.

“You have to embrace it as a tourist and preparation is never ideal, but it is what it is and there will be no whinging about it on this tour – we will not accept that.”

The no-nonsense approach sits well with Farrell, a man who doesn’t like to complicate things unnecessarily and who is looking for the Lions’ defence to be an aggressive force in New Zealand.

The signs on Saturday against the Crusaders were highly positive, as the Lions limited Scott Robertson’s team to just three points after they had obliterated many Super Rugby defences this season.

The Lions’ linespeed was oppressive and the Crusaders struggled to break it down as the tourists tackled ferociously and won the majority of the collisions.

Farrell, who was of a star of the 2013 Lions tour documentary with phrases like “fucking destroy and enjoy” and “we’re taking them to the hurt arena,” thinks the Lions can have even greater linespeed but points out that it’s not the only element of defence.

“It ain’t about just sprinting off the line, is it?” he says. “It’s about adapting to the situation. If the opposition get an offload then the system has to change.

Andy Farrell and Johnny Sexton Farrell with Lions out-half Johnny Sexton. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“It’s about numbers on feet and covering space. I thought our decision making of which system to use at the right time was very good on Saturday.”

Interestingly, Farrell points out that the Lions have not had much time to review and work on their defence on this tour, given the aforementioned travel demands and the fact that they are always preparing for two different games at once.

“For example, over the last couple of training sessions we’re having 13 on the field and you’re also having a captain’s run, but there’s not much you can do in the captain’s run,” explains Farrell.

“The other 13, it’s not 15-on-15 [training], so there’s not that much you can do in between in this first part of the tour.

“After this game, you’ve got a bit of a break – a massive break of four days until the Maoris! – and then we’ve got two days until the Chiefs and things start to settle down, which is great for us because there will be a hell of a lot of water under the bridge.

“I suppose the work you do behind the scenes in reviews and meetings, we’ll get better from there.”

Having worked on the Lions’ successful tour of Australia in 2013 and with the England and Ireland squads in recent years, Farrell says it’s useful having a good knowledge of so many of the players involved in New Zealand.

“You know everyone’s dos or don’ts,” says Farrell, “people’s x-factors and expectations. We try and adapt and grow that throughout the tour. It does help this time around.”

Andy Farrell with Jack McGrath after the game Farrell and Jack McGrath after the win over the Crusaders. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The Lions’ defence coach is looking forward to seeing his side challenged by the Highlanders’ attacking kicking game on Tuesday night in Dunedin, with Lima Sopoaga sure to test the tourists in a way the All Blacks will in the Test series.

Though Farrell insists that defending “isn’t rocket science,” he will be a vital figure on this tour if the Lions are to compete with Steve Hansen’s side.

So far, the signs are that the Lions are improving but there remains a long way to go and we won’t have a definitive verdict on their defence until the All Blacks test it on 24 June in Auckland.

As the Lions continue to grow ahead of that challenge, Farrell is looking for those players who are going to take ownership for this defence and lead it passionately.

“I’m still looking for defensive leaders,” says Farrell. “I think everyone should be a leader in defence. If somebody messes up, everyone pays for it. I’m still looking for people to grab hold of the system and take it forward.”

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Murray Kinsella

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