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Jet-boats, helicopters and bungees: The Lions' R&R in Queenstown

Warren Gatland’s men are enjoying two days off in Queenstown ahead of the final Test.

Murray Kinsella reports from Queenstown

WHILE THE ALL Blacks have been busy training hard in Auckland in preparation for the third Test against the Lions at Eden Park, the tourists have been enjoying being exactly that – tourists.

As with the two most recent Lions tours, Warren Gatland and his coaching staff have opted for a couple of days off in the early stages of this week, the hope being that players will be mentally and physically recharged for the last game of a very long season.

Queenstown --- New Zealand Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. DPA / PA Images DPA / PA Images / PA Images

There are few places as ideal as Queenstown for switching off from it all, even if the South Island spot has also become home to many Lions supporters in recent days.

Like the fans, the Lions players and management have been taking in the delights in New Zealand’s capital of fun during their couple of days of official R&R, with no training on Monday and Tuesday.

The sight of burly forwards thundering along the Shotover River in jet-boats has been enjoyed by fellow tourists, while other Lions players have taken helicopter rides to Milford Sound, headed up the Remarkables mountain range, done 4X4 tours of the stunning area, bungee-jumped or played a round of golf.

A big group of the Lions players had a social night after arriving on Sunday and believe it has helped the squad bond even further, while management have not felt it necessary to put any alcohol-related rules in place.

Many players’ families are also in Queenstown, meaning players have been able to properly catch up with their loved ones.

Rather than have the squad gather for meals in the team hotel at scheduled times, as is normally the case, the Lions players have been given money to head off and eat in the restaurants of Queenstown. The famous Fergburger has been well visited.

The players are also free to get up at whatever time they like on the off-days, a rare joy for those who have been feeling the strain of five long weeks on the road and many early starts.

The Lions will return to training in Queenstown on Wednesday, before travelling to Auckland that evening and giving themselves two full days of preparation there ahead of the third Test.

But the decision to have two days off in the week of the biggest Test match of the year has raised eyebrows in some quarters.

The All Blacks have resisted openly questioning what the Lions are doing, but back row Jerome Kaino did say he “would rather be training” than having fun in Queenstown, while assistant coach Ian Foster reacted to Gatland’s suggestion that the Kiwis’ attack has not stressed his team by saying:

“I’m not surprised he’s having a relaxing week in Queenstown then, if that’s what he thinks.”

The Lions are firmly of the belief that their decision to give their players time off is a wise one, with many of them feeling the effects of a long season.

Their hope is that the players will be mentally and physically refreshed for Saturday’s decisive Test.

“The tour has been very arduous for the boys,” said Lions head of strength and conditioning Paul Stridgeon in Queenstown today.

“Every day we’ve had ‘off,’ the boys have had to travel – either on a flight or a bus. They’ve not had any proper days off so it’s good to get the boys refreshed and then we can get fresh for the weekend.

“We did it in 2009 [in South Africa] when we did a safari and we did it in Noosa [in Australia in 2013], so we’ve tried to mirror that. We won both final Tests in those series, and we’ll get something positive out of it.

“We’ve ran this blueprint a few times with Warren with the Lions and we’ve done it a couple of times with Wales, including at the World Cup when it paid off for us.

“Whenever we’ve done it, we’ve performed well. We went over it on Saturday to revisit it and see if it was still what we wanted to do, even though it was in the plan, and we all agreed that it was best for the team.”

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