The British & Irish Lions have denied they will be "undercooked" for the forthcoming Test series despite a third one-sided romp in four games on the tour to Hong Kong and Australia.
While the 64-0 win over a Combined Country XV featured 10 tries, it once again bore no relation to the intense experience anticipated in Saturday week's first Test.
The players have no idea which of them will be picked to face the Wallabies in Brisbane, but the Welsh hooker Richard Hibbard believes the whole squad are heading in the right direction. "We feel we're on course to win the series," said Hibbard. "Four wins, countless tries … I'm very confident. There's a hell of a lot more to come. I think we can really push on."
The Ireland flanker Sean O'Brien, among those making a strong bid for a place in the first Test 23, acknowledged the Lions had tailed off slightly in the second half but is still optimistic about the series as a whole. "I don't think there's a fear of us being undercooked," he said, suggesting the Lions would raise the intensity of their training and also face potentially tough games looming against the Waratahs on Saturday and the ACT Brumbies next Tuesday. "The Reds game showed us what to expect … we're getting closer and closer to the Test series and teams are going to try and come at us a little bit harder."
The squad will now transfer down the east coast to Sydney, with head coach Warren Gatland slightly disappointed his players failed to turn the screw more in the second-half having led 38-0 at the interval. The squad, nevertheless, will be offered the chance to go sailing and climb the Harbour Bridge while the management weigh up whether to play their likely Test side en masse against the Waratahs. They have no fresh injury concerns, with George North replaced at half‑time only as a precaution and Tommy Bowe still hoping to feature in the second Test in Melbourne despite a broken bone in a hand.
The beaten Combined Country side, even so, reckon the Wallabies may just be encouraged by the Lions' inconsistency at set pieces. "I think the Wallabies will learn a lot out of tonight," said their head coach Cam Blades, whose brother Andrew is Australia's forwards coach. "We had four props who have not played higher than first-grade level. For them to hang in there in the second half against a pretty dominant Lions front row … the Wallabies might see an opportunity for their full-time props.
"We showed that if you get in their face they can make some errors. There are turnover opportunities there but they're also a slick outfit. I think it'll be a great series."
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