Lions making right noises ahead of first Test

It is 12 years since the British & Irish Lions last faced the All Blacks, and got embarrassed, and the current squad is clearly determined to front up and make sure that doesn’t happen again.

If you want to win a Test series with the Lions then you need a good squad, you need good morale. You can’t have too many cliques and you can’t have too many people who sap the energy of the group.

It is encouraging, therefore, that the noises coming from the camp suggest they are confident they can win.

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It’s going to be a tough series but the analysts will have done their homework. Steve Borthwick will know the All Blacks’ lineout calls better than his own, Graham Rowntree will know the ins and outs of their scrum.

Over the six tour games we’ve seen the way the Lions are going to play and they will back themselves to get results. What we don’t know is the exact make up of Warren Gatland’s 23-man squad for Saturday’s first Test.

I’ve given up trying to guess what Gats is going to do. He’s his own man and if he has a feeling between now and when the announcement is made that so-and-so is the right player and so-and-so should be dropped then he will do that.

All we can do is wait until 8 p.m. (BST) on Wednesday, and I’ll certainly be an interested spectator.

The players will probably have a pretty good idea of whether they will be involved in the squad for the first Test, so it won’t come as too much of a shock to those left out.

It is a strange, nerve-wracking 24 hours or so between the final midweek game and the first Test but as long as you know you’ve done your best to get on the field that’s all you can do.

It is important that those not selected do not get too despondent. They will have another hard game next Tuesday and there is still a big job to do, whether that’s playing on Saturday or helping those who do.

People will pick up injuries in the series, too, and from third choice you could suddenly become an option for a Test.

In 2009, Euan Murray was probably in line to start the first Test against South Africa on the bench. However, he got injured against Southern Kings, I replaced him and was fortunate enough to get named in the 23 to face the Springboks four days later.

The players will be well aware that the tour is about to get serious. For one thing they will have noticed the size of their travelling fan base swell as the clock ticks towards kick off at Eden Park.

Adam Jones played in two Tests against South Africa in 2009 before getting injured. Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

For the first few games in South Africa in ’09 there weren’t that many fans there, but all of a sudden we got to Durban and it was a sea of red.

We ran out at Kings Park Stadium and all you could see were red shirts. That was when I realised how much of a big deal it is to represent the Lions.

When you see thousands and thousands of fans schlepping across the globe having saved up for four years just to watch you play, that’s pretty special.

In the run up to the match you try and keep yourself to yourself and you don’t really leave the hotel other than to get a quiet coffee — even if the chances of it being quiet are pretty slim.

Four years ago, Richard Hibbard and I went to see a film on the eve of the first Test against Australia. We walked back to the hotel at around 11 p.m. and had to navigate about 200 Lions fans. We ended up having to sprint down the street so we didn’t get cornered until the early hours!

The fans enjoy chatting and are a huge reason why Lions tours are as big as they are, but the business is done on the pitch.

To that end the win over the Chiefs on Tuesday was vital in ensuring the Lions carried momentum on their trip from Hamilton to Auckland.

It would have been difficult for the boys who lined up against the Chiefs having lost the first two midweek games, and it was great to see them get a good win, perform well and score the try of the tour so far.

Liam Williams did pretty well at fullback, where I always thought he’d get selected, and I think he has a decent chance of being in the 23-man squad for the first Test against New Zealand. Elliot Daly played well too and offers cover in a variety of positions.

It was nice to see players put their hands up and maybe give Gatland a dilemma as he finalises his teamsheet for Saturday’s series opener.

Those players who shined in Hamilton will be needed over the next few weeks as the Lions attempt to tame the All Blacks. A happy, confident camp will be vital if they are to pull it off.

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