WELLINGTON (Reuters) - British and Irish Lions assistant coach Andy Farrell has implored his players to raise their defensive effort to the next level in the side’s fourth tour match against the Otago Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday.
The speed and intensity of the Lions defence proved too much for an All Blacks-laden Canterbury Crusaders in a 12-3 victory in Christchurch on Saturday and Farrell expects the Highlanders’ expansive brand of rugby to pose a different kind of threat.
“The Highlanders have scored 50-odd tries this season, averaging over four tries a game so we know the type of game that they want to play,” defence coach Farrell told reporters in Dunedin after the captain’s runs on Monday.
“A high paced, breakneck speed, side-to-side type of game with an attacking kicking game that is very threatening as well so we have got it all on Tuesday night.”
The Highlanders may only be ranked fourth among New Zealand’s five franchises in this year’s Super Rugby tournament but the 2015 champions have won 10 of their 14 fixtures and are assured of at least a playoff berth.
Their matches tend to be open and high-scoring and they will have All Blacks flyhalf Lima Sopoaga and winger Waisake Naholo among a dangerous crop of backs ready to capitalise on any lapses in the touring side’s defensive line.
“We have gone hard with the lads fitness-wise and contact-wise, taking a lot out of the legs and with the travel etc that would have had an impact on the first couple of games,” Farrell added as he looked ahead to the opening New Zealand test in Auckland on June 24.
“But we are ready to get battle-hardened for a test match, we are still ramping it up in training because we have to be up to breakneck speed for the first test.”
Tour captain Sam Warburton will lead the side after head coach Warren Gatland named a completely new lineup to the one that won in Christchurch and Farrell hopes the Wales back rower can inspire the Lions to another strong display.
“The feeling about the game on Tuesday night, for the 23 going out there, is making sure they put on a performance for the rest of the boys,” Farrell said.
”That was Sam’s talk to the boys this morning. On Saturday, the 23 did it for the rest of the lads sat on the sidelines.
“And that is the feeling in the squad this time, the boys want to keep the momentum and the feel-good factor within the group.”
Writing by John O'Brien in Singapore; editing by Sudipto Ganguly