Crusaders and Chiefs send a warning sign to the British and Irish Lions as Super Rugby lights up Suva

With the New Zealand Super Rugby sides lighting up the pANZ Stadium in Fiji, the Lions will have plenty to fear long before they meet the All Blacks

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The Independent Online

They were busy being put through the ringer at a training camp in Wales, but the British and Irish Lions may have been better served watching events unfold in Suva, Fiji.

Why? Because the Canterbury Crusaders and Waikato Chiefs, two of Super Rugby’s New Zealand contingent and sides that will face the Lions next month, were playing out an absolute belter in front of a packed crowd at the ANZ Stadium in the Fijian capital.

The two Super Rugby sides took their match on the road in what proved a major success, with 17,000 fans packing into the stands to watch the Crusaders maintain their unblemished record this season with a 31-24 win handing them their 12th victory of the season.

The scoreline reflects the type of game that unfolded, with both teams depending on an all-action attack as they threw caution to the wind. Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, David Havili and Ben Funnell scored tries for the eventual winners, the second a contender for try of the season, and despite scoring four tries through Tim Nanai-Williams, James Lowe, Kane Hames and Aaron Cruden, Chiefs were unable to end the Crusaders’ relentless drive towards the title.

So what has any of this got to do with the Lions? Well, with 10 games across 35 days in New Zealand, Warren Gatland’s side will embark on a treacherous run of warm-up matches ahead of their three-Test series with the All Blacks that is more representative of a mind field than a series of strolls in the park.

The Lions suffered defeat in one of their midweek games last time out in 2013, though that was a second string side that came between the first and second Tests, against Australian Super Rugby side the ACT Brumbies.  This time around, the dangerous Wellington Hurricanes fill that berth between the opening Tests, but there could be much worse to come in the weeks that precede the first clash with the All Blacks on 24 June.

For starters, their first serious game comes in the opening week against the Auckland Blues, who may be bottom of the New Zealand conference but have still won more than half their matches this season. The following games against the Crusaders, Chiefs, Hurricanes and the Otago Highlanders sees Gatland’s side take on four of the top seven in Super Rugby, but it will be the style of play that will cause most concern.

New Zealand’s club sides have been brilliant in cutting teams apart this season, with both the Crusaders and Chiefs managing to do it to each other on Friday in the Suva try-fest. If the Lions have any teething problems this year, they will definitely come unstuck on the way to the first Test, and given the unofficial ‘fourth Test’ comes against the New Zealand Maori a week before meeting Steve Hansen’s side that’s starting to look like a real possibility.

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Tim Nanai-Williams scored for Chiefs but it was not enough to beat the Crusaders (Getty)

The problem is that while the Lions would be backed to beat any club side when they have their strongest XV available, there will be times on the tour when they are not. Sending out a blend of first and second string sides against the Crusaders, Highlander, Maori or Hurricanes will be a massive danger to Gatland’s plans, and while 2013 showed that one defeat is not the end of the world, three or four will drain the tourists of any confidence they build along the way.

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