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Dan Sheridan/INPHO Team spirit is strong in the Lions camp.
# Smells like team spirit
Beers, songs, Josh Adams starring at Fifa and the Aki/Henshaw bromance
Warren Gatland is delving into his box of tricks to build team-spirit in the Lions set-up.

LAST UPDATE | Jun 24th 2021, 8:02 PM

AWAY FROM THE training field, free from the world of work-ons and tactical jargon, Warren Gatland has spent the last fortnight trying to gel four teams into one.

It isn’t an easy job, turning rivals into team-mates and anyone who doubts this only has to remember the words of Steve Archibald, the one-time Scotland, Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur, and lest we forget, Home Farm striker who memorably said: ‘team spirit is an illusion glimpsed in the aftermath of victory’.

Gatland can’t look at that way. Having been on three previous Lions tours, one as an assistant, two as head coach, he knows that the only chance his side has of causing an upset is by convincing his 36 players to sacrifice their egos for the overall good.

There’s two ways to go about it, the first by setting the bar high on the training field, the second by setting it low in choir practice. “There has been a lot of singing,” admitted Gregor Townsend, Gatland’s assistant coach. “We have four songs that we are all getting stuck into; someone from each country had to nominate one.”

Ireland’s contribution came from Jack Conan who has been teaching his team mates to the Wild Rover. “I wouldn’t say ‘sing’,” joked Conor Murray. “He attempted to sing it but we are getting there. We had a few beers the other night and it was our best singing session yet.

“Tadhg Beirne fancies himself (as a vocalist). Which one of us is tone deaf? That’s Tadhg Furlong. They are the lads I am standing beside when we are doing choir practice. It has been good fun.”

tadhg-furlong-and-jack-conan Billy Stickland / INPHO Boyband material? Furlong and Conan. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

For the Scots, life ceased to be fun on Tuesday night, when their football team exited the Euros. The Welsh have generated a lot of noise, by all accounts, on the nights Gareth Bale and co have been in action. In the team room, meanwhile, Josh Adams has emerged as the unlikely star of Fifa. “I walked in there the other day,” said Townsend, “and he was winning all around him.”

It’s a light touch to distract from the seriousness of the tour.

“What Warren does is he creates an environment where you don’t try and do anything different to what you would normally do in your national camp,” explained Murray. “Obviously the bonding aspect is there at the start but everyone knows their role. That sort of stuff comes naturally off the pitch.”

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It helps when there are big characters in the squad with Townsend identifying Liam Williams and Bundee Aki as the jokers in the pack. For his part, Aki has already emerged as the favourite to win the bromance award with former Connacht centre partner, Robbie Henshaw: “Any time one of them walks through the door, you can be sure the other isn’t far behind,” says Murray. 

bundee-aki-and-robbie-henshaw Billy Stickland / INPHO A fine bromance: Aki and Henshaw. Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

On a more serious note, the rising covid numbers in South Africa have once again led to questions about the possibility of the tour being cancelled.

Townsend commented: “We are aware our bubble will be tighter than here (in Jersey); we have been double vaccinated; we are used to the protocols, the players are disciplined.”

Two of those players, Zander Fagerson and Hamish Watson are also injured, seriously enough to miss Saturday’s game against Japan but not drastically enough for either man’s tour to be in jeopardy. “We made precautionary decisions,” explained Townsend.

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