WORLD Cup-winning former England captain Phil Vickery has defended the British and Irish Lions’ tour schedule, after they ran in 10 tries yesterday in the latest warm-up match of questionable value.
The Lions’ 64-0 rout of a Queensland-New South Wales Country XV, featuring a brace from Wales wing George North, was their fourth win from four and prompted fresh concerns that they could arrive at next week’s first Test against Australia undercooked.
But Vickery, who won five Lions caps on the 2001 and 2009 tours and represented his country a further 73 times, insisted Warren Gatland’s men would be too professional to let complacency set in.
And he cited his experience in Wasps’ triumphant Heineken Cup campaign of 2006-07 as proof that too much emphasis can be placed on the strength of opponents when planning warm-up matches for big occasions.
“I think you can never really replicate Test match rugby until you’re playing Test match teams,” Vickery told City A.M.
“All you can do is deal with what’s in front of you and sometimes the motivation to play against the so-called lesser teams is actually tougher.
“How clinical can you be? How exact can you be? Can you take what you practice on the training field onto the real field, against players who are very motivated?
“When we won the Heineken Cup at London Wasps, we didn’t have a game the week before, so we ended up playing our second team. We lost to our second team in a friendly match and went on to beat Leicester in the final.
“The Lions will be under no illusions as to what’s going to be coming up in that first Test and they’ll be ready for them.”
Vickery, who is an ambassador for RBS’s RugbyForce initiative, which aims to encourage people to improve their local club facilities, does have one complaint about the Lions itinerary, however: the historic stop-off in Hong Kong for their tour curtain-raiser.
“The only disappointment for me was the Barbarians game in Hong Kong,” he added. “Anyone in their right mind who tries to justify that being a meaningful game to me is a liar because that was purely a PR stunt and a money making exercise, and I think anyone who says anything different is wrong.”
Phil Vickery was at Chobham RFC last Monday redecorating a changing room for RugbyForce, an RBS initiative that helps give grassroots clubs a better future. Get behind your local rugby club over the RugbyForce weekend on 15/16 June in England and Wales. To find out more: www.rbs6nations.com/en/rugby_force_weekend