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Sam Warburton warns All Blacks to be braced for Lions physical backlash

The Guardian logo The Guardian 30/06/2017

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Sam Warburton is backing the British & Irish Lions to storm back into the series and ask physical questions of New Zealand in Saturday’s second Test. The recalled Warburton rates the game as “the biggest challenge of my career” and predicts a furious response to the defeat at Eden Park.

Warburton is advising the All Blacks to brace themselves for an intense examination. “We know it’s all or nothing now,” said Warburton, restored as captain in place of Peter O’Mahony. “When you have been physically outplayed, which we were, that does hurt you as a playing group. The boys are looking to put that right on Saturday.

“In rugby it’s very much a case of 99 times out of 100 the more physical team wins. People might not like to hear that but it is the truth. Being physical doesn’t mean beating up people. It means your scrum is dominant, your lineout maul is dominant and your breakdown is dominant. That’s the majority of the game, apart from the kicking side. That has to improve this weekend.”

Warren Gatland has reshuffled his starting XV, with Warburton, Maro Itoje and Johnny Sexton promoted from the bench, with the aim of putting the All Blacks under greater strain in Wellington. The players still regard New Zealand as eminently beatable. “The guys around me are guys who have the mentality which I want from them,” Warburton said. “They don’t care who they’re playing against. They’re all human beings and anybody can get put under pressure. It’s about making sure we can do that on Saturday.”

Sam Warburton, the Lions captain, said: ‘When you have been physically outplayed, which we were, that does hurt you as a playing group’. © PA Sam Warburton, the Lions captain, said: ‘When you have been physically outplayed, which we were, that does hurt you as a playing group’. Warburton is determined to square the series: “It’s going to be the biggest highlight of my career leading the boys out on Saturday. We all accept last weekend was probably the first game on tour we were beaten in the battle at the breakdown from a physicality point of view. That’s just going to fuel the fire.

“Last weekend they justified why they’re the best team in the world but I definitely believe, with the guys we’ve got and the way they’ve been speaking this past week, that everybody’s got the perfect attitude to take into this game. We have got one chance. It’s like knockout rugby and hopefully that brings the best out of the guys. They are used to that pressure, which is similar to the Six Nations with a lot of must-win games.”

Warburton also made clear the touring squad are keen to help ensure Lions tours continue long into the future. “Without sounding too strong, I’d be devastated if the Lions was ever lost. I don’t understand the politics and the finances of it but from the playing point of view it’s absolutely amazing and the players all think the same. The motivational levels are going to be extremely high.”

Steve Hansen, the All Blacks coach, has criticised the New Zealand Herald for publishing a cartoon portraying his Lions counterpart, Warren Gatland, as a clown. “To ridicule someone is not right. It’s a bit disappointing, really,” Hansen said.

“The last Test was a beauty and, with a little bit more luck, they could have easily won. We have to front up on Saturday. It’s OK doing it once; we have to do it again.”

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