AUCKLAND (Reuters) - The British and Irish Lions wasted little time spelling out their priorities when they touched down at Auckland Airport for the 10-match tour of New Zealand on Wednesday, promising to focus their collective energy on beating the All Blacks.
The three-match series against the world champions is the focal point of the tour and victory in those encounters is what the Lions covet most, even if that means losing to New Zealand’s five Super Rugby franchises and the Maori All Blacks.
“It is important you win (games outside the tests) and you do get a good feeling in the camp when you win games, but realistically these next three-four weeks are going to be big learning weeks for us,” captain Sam Warburton told reporters at his arrival media conference in Auckland.
“Ideally we’d like to win all those games, but if we just keeping getting better and better, then that’s good.”
Coach Warren Gatland added that victory in the test series would be the true marker of whether the team were a success.
“It’s all about winning the test series,” the New Zealander said. “So if we drop a game or two on the way, as we’re looking at combinations or trying things out, it’s not going to be the end of the world.”
The Lions face the Provincial Barbarians in their tour opener in Whangarei on Saturday, where Gatland’s son Bryn is likely to start at flyhalf for the opposition.
“I haven’t spoken to Bryn for a few days,” Gatland told TVNZ.
”We spoke last week and... I asked him to give me all their calls and moves and he said ‘as long as you let me run through a big hole in the first few minutes I’d be happy with that’.
“It’s great for him... and I‘m really looking forward to the next few days and catching up with Bryn on Saturday.”
The Lions then face the Auckland Blues next Wednesday in the first of three clashes against Super Rugby teams, before a match against the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua on June 17, where Gatland is expected to field his preferred first test side.
The opening test against the world champions is at Eden Park on June 24 and while Warburton was keen for his side to play attractive rugby on the tour, winning was their main focus.
“I don’t care how we win. If we won every game 3-0, I’d bite your arm off, so it’s all about winning at this level,” he added.
“Obviously it’s nice from a spectator’s point of view, fans... to have a great spectacle... but I’ll take a win all day long.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien