British and Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland has ruled out any notion of complacency creeping into camp as his players edge towards possible Test series glory against Australia.
The Lions are now one win away from securing a first Test series triumph since defeating South Africa 2-1 in 1997 following their gripping 23-21 victory over the Wallabies on Saturday.
Expectation is at an optimum level among the thousands of travelling supporters, and Gatland’s biggest challenge this week could be keeping a lid on things.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any amount of complacency at all. I think these players are well aware they’ve got an opportunity to create their own history,” he explained.
“Obviously, what happened in New Zealand in 2005 [the Lions suffered a 3-0 Test series defeat], part of the whole remit of 2009 [South Africa] for the coaches was to put some respect back into that red jersey.
“But this series isn’t about respect, it’s about delivering. For the Lions to continue as an entity we need to be successful, and I think world rugby wants the Lions to be successful as well.
“When you see the crowd and the atmosphere, it’s something special, something nothing else can create apart from a World Cup. We need to keep that fantasy or history alive.
“It’s difficult for the players to leave the hotel without being stopped on the street by everyone. A few of them have got a few disguises to try and sneak out for a coffee. But that’s the beauty of it. People have paid a lot of money to be here and saved up for a long time to experience it. You’ve got to give them a piece of it, and the players are part of that.”
Gatland also underlined the need for continued assessment of necessary preparation time when plans are drawn up for New Zealand 2017.
“We’ve got to make sure that, if we do win the series, after this tour you’ve got to think about what happens in four years’ time because the preparation is vital,” he added. “Not just the preparation back in the UK for the Lions. In four years, New Zealand might have to push their season back a little bit to allow the Lions to prepare properly.
“We feel we’ve been hampered by a few of those issues on this tour, so we need to make sure going forward that everything is done right and is in place to give the Lions the best possible chance of success.
“The problem with Test match rugby is that there is nothing in between. It is either agony or ecstasy. There was someone up there potentially looking down on us [yesterday].
“I was going to leave with three minutes to go because I couldn’t watch those last three minutes. But I did manage to stay around.”
Saturday’s first Test was a thrilling and brutal encounter and much of the talk yesterday was about assessing injuries.
For the Lions, there was some concern on the fitness of arguably their most influential forward. Former Lions captain Paul O’Connell is nursing an arm injury, with a camp spokesman saying that he continues to be “treated and assessed”.
England forward Geoff Parling would be the obvious replacement if O’Connell is sidelined, while Ireland prop Tom Court, who is currently in his home city of Brisbane, will join the squad today as cover for Alex Corbisiero, who has a tight calf muscle.
Court will go straight on to the Lions bench for Tuesday’s clash against the Melbourne Rebels.
Australia, meanwhile, have reinforced their squad with the addition of flanker George Smith, full-back Jesse Mogg and centre Ben Tapuai. The Wallabies suffered a terrible succession of injuries in Saturday’s contest but no-one has yet been ruled out of this Saturday’s second Test in Melbourne.
Pat McCabe (neck), winger Digby Ioane (shoulder), centre Adam Ashley-Cooper (shoulder) and full-back Berrick Barnes (head knock) underwent scans and a decision on their availability will be made early in the week.
Inside centre Christian Leali’ifano, who was knocked out while tackling Jonathan Davies, will also be reviewed over the coming days.
Smith returns after being ruled out of the opening Test in Brisbane with a knee injury and his availability to face the Lions will be determined later in the week. The 32-year-old breakdown specialist has 110 caps and returned to Australia this year on a short-term contract with the Brumbies.
The physical Tapuai, who has seven caps, last appeared for the Wallabies on last year’s autumn tour to Europe and can play at either inside or outside centre.
Uncapped Mogg has been in outstanding form for the Brumbies this season.