WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Facing the Canterbury Crusaders pack should be a great opportunity for the British and Irish Lions to test their mettle ahead of the test series against the All Blacks, according to assistant coach Graham Rowntree.
The Lions face the seven-times Super Rugby champions in Christchurch on Saturday needing to step up their intensity after a mediocre start to their 10-match tour of New Zealand.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has done the visitors no favours by naming six All Blacks in his pack, with the front row of props Joe Moody and Owen Franks and hooker Codie Taylor likely to start the first test on June 24.
“They are a very competitive outfit, very aggressive on opposition ball,” said Rowntree. “They’re top of the stats in terms of pressurising opposition ball, very clean on their own ball, as well. It’s a real challenge for us.”
It is a long way from 2003 when Rowntree the player stood up against a full-strength All Blacks scrum with two of his England team mates, Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio, in the sin bin.
Rowntree and his five other forwards repelled one attacking scrum after the other to keep the All Blacks out and secured a 15-13 victory that then coach Clive Woodward said convinced him his side would win the World Cup later that year.
The 46-year-old, who surprisingly did not make Woodward’s World Cup squad, said the clash with the Crusaders is one he would have relished himself.
“This is a game that if I was a player, I’d think I’ll see how good I am and test myself,” Rowntree added. “It’s great, it’ll be great for us, proper intensity.
“These are the games that we want going into a test series, playing against a top Super team full of All Blacks.
“In my area of the game it’s a massive challenge.
“We talk about the set-pieces as physical statements as forwards coaches, winning those little battles in the war of a game.
“It could be a scrum or a maul or, on the flip side, defending those. They’re big battle areas in a game and we’ve got to match them and better them at the weekend.”
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly