x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

British & Irish Lions not 'undercooked' ahead of first Test against Australia

Jamie Roberts refuses to believe his touring party are not sufficiently battle-hardened.

Jamie Roberts, left, does not expect to face more competitive teams during warm-ups.
Jamie Roberts, left, does not expect to face more competitive teams during warm-ups.

Jamie Roberts has dismissed any notion of the British & Irish Lions being "undercooked" for next week's first Test match against Australia.

The Lions arrived in Sydney on Thursday, fresh from mauling a Combined Country XV 64-0 at Newcastle's Hunter Stadium on Wednesday night.

In four games so far, they have amassed a total of 214 points and 28 tries with an average scoreline of 53-9, leading to suggestions they might not be sufficiently battle and match-hardened for the opening Wallabies showdown in Brisbane 10 days from now.

Twelve years ago, though, when the Lions last toured Australia, they had already lost a game by this stage of the trip, had also demolished horribly-weak opponents in Western Australia and a Queensland President's XV – yet still beat the Wallabies 29-13 first-up.

The tour could go up a gear in their next two games – against New South Wales Waratahs on Saturday, and the Brumbies in Canberra three days later – with Roberts not feeling those opening salvos will be an issue after the Lions were tested just once so far, against Queensland Reds last weekend.

"Ultimately, we've got to be playing teams where it's far more competitive, but that is the nature of touring, that is the way it is," the 53 times-capped Wales centre said.

"We always knew that these games would be part of the tour.

"From 2009, we have to remember that we came very close to winning [against South Africa], but for a couple of mistakes in that first Test and that second Test as well.

"I am sure that Saturday is going to be as equal a challenge, if not a greater challenge, than the Reds game last weekend.

"I don't think there is any danger of this squad being undercooked for the Tests."

Roberts has worked with Lions head coach and current Wales boss Warren Gatland long enough to know training intensity will be cranked up if he feels the games lack the necessary physical edge.

"You can argue both ways," Roberts added. "It's the nature of the tour, but it is up to us as a side to raise the intensity in our game.

"If 'Gats' doesn't feel we are reaching that Test match intensity in games, he will make sure we do it in training. The sports science team out here are second to none, and it's about getting things right off the pitch as well.

"If he doesn't feel that we are getting to that intensity, he will certainly replicate it in training leading up to the first Test."

Roberts admits the squad "haven't got a clue" what Gatland's likely first Test team will be at this stage.

A number of players appear to be automatic choices – that list would include full-back Leigh Halfpenny, wing George North, fly-half Jonathan Sexton, scrum-half Mike Phillips, prop Adam Jones and lock Paul O'Connell.

But the selection thinking, at least publicly, remains fluid from Gatland and his coaching staff as they build towards tackling the Wallabies.

"We just have to wait and see what Warren decides to go with," Roberts said. "We haven't got a clue. The coaches have made it clear to the players that they will give everyone a shot.

"This Saturday's selection will probably sway things a little – that is what people are expecting, anyway – but we will wait and see. It all depends on the coaches, don't ask me. As players, we don't pick the team.

"I am sure if boys impress enough in next Tuesday's team [against the Brumbies], they will get their shot at Test match rugby. Warren has indicated that. Those boys who put their hands up will get selected.

"We are here as a squad. Obviously, as an individual you would love to be playing every game for the Lions, and certainly the Test matches.

"Those players who make the Test team have a job to do, but those players who don't have an even bigger job to do in my eyes. Ultimately we want to achieve the goal of winning the Test series, regardless of what team is picked. We are all here as a collective."

sports@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE