British and Irish Lions must ignore critics and stay positive in challenging run-up to All Blacks series

 
Bob Baker
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Blues v British & Irish Lions
Jack Nowell has been among the Lions to have his mettle tested (Source: Getty)

Had Maro Itoje’s line-out lifters got their timing right in the last throw of the dice against the Auckland Blues in midweek then perhaps the British and Irish Lions would have gone into Saturday’s fixture against Canterbury’s Crusaders with two wins.

They would now be three from three. In the lead-up to that final play it was as if Rory Best, known perhaps unfairly for being a pie-chucker rather than a marksman, was cursed by the doubtful pessimism of some commentators.

The truth is that a last-minute win would have meant little, but it would have built a confidence that is only being chipped by critics.

Read more: Lions recall captain Warburton for Highlanders showdown

Questions have been posed that might undermine the confidence of a self-doubting tourist – players like Jack Nowell, who on the back of winning the Premiership could well have woken up on a sombre Thursday morning amid the shrapnel of shattered invincibility.

Positivity will be an integral underpin to continued progression and, irrespective of a mixed start, the group would have built a greater understanding of the pace and nuances of playing the game in the furthest corner of the southern hemisphere.

A 12-3 victory over the Crusaders has proven that a single win can instantly change the mood, both within the camp and among onlookers.

As the caravan continues its journey towards the first Test on 24 June, characters will continue to be tested through moments of jubilation and despair.

Highlanders clash can galvanise Lions

Tuesday’s hit-out against the Highlanders could well be one of the trickiest fixtures to navigate and if the outcome is unfavourable there ought to be no desperation.

Head coach Warren Gatland has given each Lion his chance and will be focused on what happens this Saturday versus the Maori All Blacks in a game that ought to give the greatest indication of where the Lions are relative to their forthcoming opponents, New Zealand.

There will be hurdles against the Highlanders – Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo will provide an almighty Polynesian speed bump – but the cumulative effect of facing quality opponents with such regularity will harden and galvanise.

Maintaining optimism during testing chapters will be the determining factor in successfully binding this squad ahead of facing a nation where rugby is less of a game and more the fabric of its culture.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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