As great as it was for the British & Irish Lions to win the series against Australia in 2013 – the task they face four years later couldn’t be more difficult.
Not only are the All Blacks in 2017 on a different level to the Wallabies in 2013 but the standard of opposition the Lions will face in the “warm-up games” is a completely different kettle of fish.
After the Auckland Blues’ 50-32 thumping of the Cheetahs at Eden Park on Friday morning – the New Zealand Super Rugby sides have won all but one of their matches against non-Kiwi opposition – a frightening statistic. It only goes to show the growing divide in the standard in Super Rugby at the moment.
In 2013, the Lions won all but one of their matches against the Australian Super Rugby sides (a 14-12 defeat to the Brumbies). A similar record in the month of June would be highly impressive. However, due to the increase in the standard which the Lions will face on this Tour, there may not be the same level of opportunity for socialising compared to 2013 due to the extra amount of work the squad will likely have to get through on the training pitch.
Sam Warburton told BBC Radio Wales that there will be little time for socialising due to the games coming “thick and fast” compared to 2013.
“I think it’s going to be very difficult. Like four years’ ago there were chances where guys could have a little bit of a social together. We might be able to go out and have a couple of beers and do things like that which is quite a good way to get to know players,” Warburton said.
“But the games are coming so thick and fast (this time) there’s not going to be any time for stuff like that really.”
However, in terms of the scheduling, there is little difference between 2013 and 2017. The Lions played six fixtures before the first Test against the Wallabies in 2013. The same format is applied in 2017.
— Sean McMahon (@Sean_McMahon89) May 12, 2017
For the Tour to New Zealand and including the first Test against the All Blacks, the Lions will play seven fixtures in 21 days. In 2013, the exact same frequency of games occurred i.e. seven matches in 21 days.
So Warburton’s argument does not really add up here but perhaps the reason for less socialising and more time on the training paddock is due to the higher level of opposition Warren Gatland’s side will be facing.
Nevertheless, the worrying aspect about all this is that Warburton has said that there won’t be any time for scenarios whereby the players can get out of their claustrophobic environment to enjoy themselves.
Current and ex-Lions players will tell you the importance of team camaraderie and bonding in order to build successful relationships on the pitch.
It remains to be seen how things will transpire down in New Zealand but if this is the mantra being applied by Warburton or the coaching ticket, it may be a cause of concern for the rest of the squad and the Lions’ chances of securing a historic series victory.