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Dublin: 7 °C Saturday 25 January, 2020

‘All the Lions have been watching Super Rugby with one eye’

Andy Farrell has taken plenty of encouragement from seeing Kiwi teams cancel each other out this season.

Image: Photosport/Marty Melville/INPHO

HAD WE ASKED Andy Farrell which Super Rugby fixture he enjoyed most this season, his pick probably wouldn’t match up with many other people who enjoy some rugby with their Friday and Saturday breakfast.

Those of us without the responsibility Farrell has might drool just at the memory of the Highlanders’ 41 – 45 comeback win away to the Cheetahs or any of what Joe Schmidt might call the ‘basketball results’ routinely run up by the Hurricanes and Crusaders when in full flight.

Farrell, the gruff Wiganer whose job it is to set the defensive structures of Ireland and the Lions, has instead been licking his lips at the tighter encounters that have occurred when more evenly-matched Kiwi sides come face to face.

Case in point, this morning’s 16-all draw between the Chiefs and Blues and the enthralling Crusaders win over the Hurricanes a fortnight ago.

“There’s been a few change-ups over the course of the season, a few teams adapting the way they want to play the game,” said Farrell when asked if he had learned anything about the Kiwi attack from this season’s club competition.

It’s very interesting when the New Zealand teams have come head to head, we’ve seen one or two of them cancel each other out, which has been great. But then the week after they go and put 50-60 points again, so you know it’s still in the bag. “

The skill-sets on show in the southern hemisphere competition will be used to stretch and probe the Lions throughout the tour, not only in the three Tests against the All Blacks, but also from those who aren’t core members of Steve Hansen’s matchday squad when the tourists pitch up in Christchurch, Dunedin and Hamilton. The tough tests will just keep on coming.

“It certainly will, and the boys are well aware of that. All the boys have been watching Super Rugby with one eye as they go through the end of the season and the dramas they’ve just had themselves.

“We all know, in world rugby, that New Zealand provinces at this moment in time are dominating Super Rugby. We know the challenges that are going to be ahead. It’s for us to make sure we get better as a team, concentrate on ourselves and make sure we’re in a good place for that first Test.”

Source: All Blacks/YouTube

How this iteration of the Lions approach the tour tactically will be fascinating. Warren Gatland, one of the more conservative and reductionist coaches in the Six Nations, is facing the most fluent attacking teams in the game. Though Gatland has never recorded a win over his native country, Farrell backs the three-time Six Nations winner to impose his gameplan on the tour.

“Warren has got very close to the All Blacks a few times. Not many people have got close to them and Warren has been a very successful coach over his career. He knows what he wants. He won’t take any notice of the background noise. He will just focus on what is right for this team to be successful.”

Iain Henderson and Andy Farrell Farrell with Iain Henderson at Lions training in Wales last week. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

He added: “You would definitely say over the last four years rugby has improved in the northern hemisphere. There’s no doubt about that. At this morning’s training seesion we tried to disorientate the players a little bit, put them in pressure situations.

“They handled it very calmly under extreme pressure. The quality has been outstanding.

“There are different systems, but there are a few principles that are very much the same throughout the four nations and throughout world rugby.”

Crunch time is coming.

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Sean Farrell

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