The British & Irish Lions have defended their schedule for the three-Test tour against the All Blacks in New Zealand after criticism from All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
Lions tour manager John Spencer insisted “we don’t mind the schedule at all”, but also reiterated that the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) map out that plan under official contracts.
The tourists waited until all their players were free from last weekend’s Aviva Premiership and PRO12 commitments before travelling, another element All Blacks boss Hansen criticised.
The Lions landed in Auckland on Wednesday and will face the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians just three days later, but tour manager Spencer insisted Warren Gatland’s men are happy with their plans.
“The schedule is set by the New Zealand Rugby Union, and that’s a contractual thing and has been for many years,” Spencer said. “We don’t mind the schedule at all. It would be a pointless exercise coming to New Zealand to play the best team in the world, and trying to play them having played mediocre opposition.
“So the fact that we’re playing Super Rugby sides is exactly what the coaches want, to prepare sides for the Test.”
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What the 2017 British & Irish Lions lacked in preparation time they made up for in planning as they departed London on Monday afternoon determined to upset the All Blacks.
All Blacks coach Hansen earlier this week told The Times “you’d want to be there a week at the minimum” when discussing the Lions’ quick turnaround after arrival.
Hansen insisted “when we tour we have total control over when we leave the country” in an early mind-games dig at the Lions — but the tourists were disinterested in engaging in any phoney war as they acclimatised to their new surroundings.
“The only thing we’re disappointed in on the domestic side is the preparation time, we’re trying to fit six weeks’ preparation into a couple of weeks with only part of our squad,” Spencer said. “So that aspect is disappointing, but that’s our lot, that’s what we have to react to.”
Lions captain Sam Warburton insisted he is itching to play Saturday’s tour opener in Whangarei, despite the quick turnaround after Wednesday’s arrival.
“I presume a lot of the guys who have been involved in training for the last two and a half weeks will be involved in that game,” Warburton said. “I’m hoping that’s going to happen this time round.
“That’s what frustrated me four years ago, I think I played the fourth game, and I was pretty jealous waiting for that game. You just want to get the Lions jersey in the kitbag. And then I just want us to win, and I don’t care how we win.”
While Warburton admitted priority number one is to win any which way this weekend, the Wales flanker also conceded the Lions would accept defeat in one of the warm-up matches to boost their Test series chances.
Asked if the Lions would trade defeat in a warm-up game for a first series victory in New Zealand since 1971, Warburton said: “One hundred percent yeah. These games are important to win, you get a good feeling, but we’ve got to realise that the next three, four weeks are big learning weeks for us.”
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Spencer defends Lions schedule
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