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Lions out to build world's premier pack

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 9/06/2017 Daniel Gilhooly

The British and Irish Lions have just over two weeks to meet a lofty target on their tour of New Zealand.

To field the best forward pack in world rugby.

Lions and England assistant coach Steve Borthwick laid down that challenge before the tourists left home shores, explaining Test success would only be built on bettering the All Blacks up front.

So locking horns with the powerhouse Crusaders pack in Christchurch on Saturday provides a perfect gauge.

English hooker Jamie George believes progress was made up front in Wednesday's 22-16 loss to the Blues, from their opening loss to the Provincial Barbarians.

However, he admits there is still ample room for improvement.

"New Zealand have been the best side in the world for a long time," George said.

"All along, Steve said to us if we want to win this Test series, we've got to become the best pack in the world.

"It's a big statement but one that's needed if we're going to be successful."

George is one of 11 players making their first start of the tour.

Remarkably, the 26-year-old has earned a Lions starting spot before doing so for England, where his 17 caps have all been off the reserves bench.

Of some comfort is that two fellow forwards from European club champions - prop Mako Vunipola and lock George Kruis - will run out alongside him.

The trio have done their homework on the likes of All Blacks front rowers Joe Moody, Owen Franks and Codie Taylor, along with Test locks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano.

It's served to highlight the fight on their hands.

"Coming up against what's probably the best pack in Super Rugby, it's an opportunity for us to lay a marker down," George said.

"Going into the Test series, it will be good for us to get some dominance there."

Another Lions assistant coach, Graham Rowntree, says the Crusaders is exactly the sort of game the tourists need to quickly improve.

His is the latest Lions official to dismiss criticism the 10-match tour schedule is too tough.

"It's going to be great for us, proper intensity," he said.

"I've got so much respect for their set piece. But I trust my guys.

"A lot of our pack have got experience playing for their countries and in European finals. It's going to be a real challenge."

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