Graham Rowntree has hailed lock Alun Wyn Jones for reasserting his credentials as an auxiliary back-row forward for the British and Irish Lions.
Wales lock Jones failed to reach his usual lofty standards in the Lions’ 30-15 opening Test loss to New Zealand in Auckland, but was backed to recover by head coach Warren Gatland.
The 31-year-old second row hit back with a fine, obdurate showing as the Lions edged out the All Blacks 24-21 in Wellington on Saturday to set up a series decider.
And assistant coach Rowntree believes the Ospreys stalwart can now repeat that kind of talismanic showing in Saturday’s final Test at Eden Park.
Maro Itoje grabbed the headlines for the Lions fans’ incessant chanting of his name that drowned out the home support – but Rowntree insisted Jones’ role in the Westpac Stadium must not be overlooked.
“I was pleased with the output from both our second rows,” said Rowntree.
“Alun Wyn hasn’t got as catchy a song as Maro Itoje. I think he needs to develop a song for himself.
“But I am pleased for Alun Wyn. He is in the engine room, he’s the tight-head lock. And his graft in the loose, he gives you a lot in the loose, almost as much as a back rower, and there’s his lineout work too.
“I was pleased with his performance and it was appropriate we brought Courtney Lawes on at the right time. Alun Wyn had put in a big shift.”
The Lions can complete just a second-ever series win in New Zealand on Saturday – but must end the All Blacks’ staggering Eden Park unbeaten run to do so. New Zealand have not lost in 39 matches at their Auckland stronghold and will be hell bent on extending that run this weekend.
The Lions have played twice and lost twice at Eden Park already on this tour – first 22-16 to the Blues and then 30-15 in the first Test.
But Rowntree is confident those experiences will help the tourists disregard New Zealand’s unbeaten run at their favourite ground that dates back to July 1994. “Luckily we have been there recently,” said Rowntree of Eden Park.
“We played the Blues there and it was a great atmosphere that night. And obviously the first Test was there. We have had a taste of it.
“It will be a white hot atmosphere on Saturday night. These guys have all played in big stadiums and on big occasions before. And I am sure they will rise to the occasion.”
New Zealand surrendered an unbeaten record on home soil dating back to 2009 in Saturday’s second Test loss to the Lions. Warren Gatland’s tourists know full well the All Blacks will hit back with unbridled fury in the series decider in Auckland – but Rowntree vowed the Lions will be ready.
Asked what to expect from New Zealand in a few days’ time, Rowntree said: “A reaction; a massive reaction. They don’t normally make so many mistakes, and they’ll be hurting from that – as we were from the first Test last week.
“So we’re expecting a reaction at Eden Park. They don’t lose there very often. That will be driving them on.
“But we’re driven on by our game and our standards and wanting to get this done.”