Lewis Moody: Owen Farrell has to shake off fatigue and show his spark's still there for the Lions
Moody Views: Have the last few weeks with the Lions reinvigorated him?
Thursday 30 May 2013
They have yet to kick a ball in anger but I am already hearing good things about the 2013 Lions. This is such an exciting time for those 37 guys. There will have been a touch of anxiety when they first got together – there always is when you meet a group of individuals you don't know, never mind a group of individuals you have been taught to despise to try and beat lumps out of!
Then you get together and realise you have common interests and desires to make this team the best. It is just a great period of time for a rugby player. It's about wanting to impress your peers on the training pitch, wanting to show the guys from other nations what you are about, and then off the pitch trying to gel as quickly as possible.
In 2005 that was certainly something we got wrong. In the first couple of weeks we did not spend enough time off the pitch getting to know each other. We only had shared rooms for the first few weeks and that was a mistake. Part of being on a Lions tour is having those times together and sharing rooms. Warren Gatland has had them swapping on a weekly basis so everyone is getting to know each other and that can only be good for what happens on the pitch. Having spoken to Jamie Roberts and Alex Cuthbert it sounds like they have got a really good mix. It will be hard for those Leicester and Leinster players coming late into the squad because the majority of the team have gelled, had a few nights out, and have socialised together.
What the latecomers do have in their favour is the confidence of ending the season so well. If you have players coming off winning seasons, like the Welsh guys, the Leicester lads and Leinster it can only lift the confidence of the squad as a whole. Players are going on to the field happy in their ability. There is also a confidence that comes with being chosen as a Lion. The six Leicester Lions have had some of their best games in their last few fixtures.
The new arrivals take a back seat for the kick-off in Hong Kong tomorrow and that gives a big chance to the likes of Richie Gray, Owen Farrell, Stuart Hogg and Justin Tipuric to get their tours off to a flying start.
Tomorrow's team is, as expected, Welsh heavy but what Gatland will be looking for is cross-country relationships, how players gel on the pitch – Farrell and Mike Phillips at nine and 10, the front row, the back three. There are only two 10s in the squad so it will be intriguing to see how the half-back pairs gel – Jonny Sexton and Conor Murray are on the bench tomorrow. It's a key start for Farrell. He has looked tired at the end of what has been two intense seasons of international rugby and two full campaigns with Saracens. You could see it in Chris Robshaw as well. Will the last few weeks with the Lions have reinvigorated Farrell, given him that energy back? When you get together with groups like this for the first time it sparks that vibe because you have to prove yourself all over again, and all amid the hugeness of being on a Lions trip.
Farrell is one of a number, like Gray, who needs a good game if he is to challenge for that Test spot. Richie has got a lot to prove because he has not had a good season. He had a tough time at Sale, although Scotland have been better this season and it is a great opportunity for him to get on the team sheet early and show the coach what he can do.
It's a big chance for all three Scots. Hogg was the standout player for them during the Six Nations and in the autumn. The full-back contest is going to be a tight one and it is going to be some contest between Hogg, Leigh Halfpenny and Rob Kearney. Halfpenny has the edge to start with but when you surround someone like Hogg with quality players – Scotland do not have the depth that he will obviously be enveloped in on a Lions trip – like Roberts and Cuthbert, and a forward pack that should create areas for broken play and open field to be exploited, it could give him the perfect platform to lay down a marker.
The priority tomorrow is to win. That will be vital to keep the confidence going forward. It is also important to get all those training ground routines in place: scrummaging, lineout, phases, set plays. Get all those executed as planned and you get the structure of the 2013 Lions in place. I can't imagine we will see much kicking, and I don't doubt they will put a good few points on the Barbarians, but the Lions will want to implement the style of play they have planned for the rest of the tour. I don't expect to see a vast change from a typical Gatland team. They will move the ball quite a bit but with the team, and the squad, he has picked we are going to see some big ball carrying – take a look at that centre pairing of Jonathan Davies and Roberts – to create a gain line advantage. The centres will look to go through the first tackles so Hogg, Cuthbert and Sean Maitland have the opportunities to run off them, or they will look to link with Tipuric and Toby Faletau, who will distribute to the broken field runners.
I like the look of that back row. It's exciting to see Tipuric get a run out. He is a class player and one for the future. If he starts well it will put pressure on Sam Warburton. On a Lions tour there is no opportunity to have an average game. You have to perform from game one, minute one and that is why for guys like Farrell, Gray, Tipuric and Hogg tomorrow is so important.
There are not many Test places nailed down so there is the opportunity to get out there and play and show the coaches what they can do. You have to get it right when you are on a Lions tour – one bad or indifferent game can sow that little seed in the coach's mind and that is the last thing that you want.
It is here at last, a tour that has been the subject of endless debate for month after month – the start of the 2013 Lions. I am a huge Lions supporter – this is a special team – and I simply can't wait to see how these coming weeks are going to unfold.
ESPN Classic kicks off its extensive Lions coverage at 8.30pm on Monday with documentary The Invincibles, which looks at the remarkable 1974 tour of South Africa, when the Lions went all 22 games unbeaten. Visit espnclassic.com for more details.
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