Experience will count for Lions, claims Farrell

Andy Farrell believes the British and Irish Lions’ bumper collection of experienced and mature Test match players will “count for a lot” in this morning’s showdown against Australia.

British and Irish Lions' defence coach Andy Farrell

The Lions’ starting line-up at Suncorp Stadium averages more than 50 caps per man, compared with under 35 for the Wallabies.

In an eagerly awaited first Test full of fine margins between potential success and failure, the Lions’ battle-hardened edge could prove significant.

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“Experience counts for a lot in big games because they have been there and done that,” said Lions assistant coach Farrell.

“Australia have got some world-class players, and so have we.

“What you generally find when you come to a game like this is the performance levels rise another 10 to 15 per cent, and the more experience you have in your side the better.

“It was great looking around the team room today and seeing who is going into battle with you.”

The Lions completed their preparations in pouring rain at an east Brisbane school, with Farrell dismissing any concerns about flanker Tom Croft and centre Jonathan Davies, who did not train.

“We had two really intense, physical sessions yesterday, and Tom has just got some inflammation within his toe,” he added.

“It’s nothing to worry about. The important thing is he trained yesterday and got through the two sessions, and the important thing to do was to give him some rest for tomorrow.

“Jonathan didn’t train either today. That was just because of stiffness from the two sessions yesterday, but he’s fine.”

When the Lions last played a Test match in Brisbane 12 years ago, they blew Australia away 29-13 before suffering successive defeats in Melbourne and Sydney, which was followed by Test series losses against New Zealand (2005) and South Africa (2009).

Since that glory night at the Gabba, the Lions can reflect on just one win in eight Tests. It is a sequence they are hell-bent on improving.

“We realise what all the hard work over the past six weeks has been for. It is about tomorrow, and you can tell it is Test week by the buzz about the place,” said Farrell.

“There is an excitement among the players and an intensity in the way that they train, and their work ethic both on and off the training field is at a different level. It has certainly been a great week.

“You train together for six weeks and you have a plan. You hold a few things back and you don’t show everything you’ve got.

“At the end of the day, when it comes down to big games, everyone knows what wins them – it’s physicality, it’s energy, it’s a want to get on top of your opposition.

“Over the last six weeks we have done a lot of learning. There has been a progression, but we haven’t wanted to show everything first up. There are three Tests to come.”

Ireland centre Brian O’Driscoll, who scored a mesmeric solo try for the 2001 Lions against Australia in Brisbane, returns for more as a 125-cap talisman whose class and quality has never waned over the past 12 years.

On his fourth Lions tour, O’Driscoll delivered an impassioned eve-of-Test address on why the Lions hold such a unique place in world rugby.

O’Driscoll will make his seventh Test appearance in the famous red jersey as he returns to the city where he made a try-scoring debut 12 years ago.

The Ireland centre believes as passionately now in everything the Lions stand for as at any time throughout his stellar career.

“You realise the number of people that play your sport, and you’ve been selected among the top 37 players in Britain and Ireland,” he said.

“With the calibre of players that go on Lions tours, I think that – married with the history of great Lions tours like 1971, 1974, 1989, 1997 – are memorable moments for people who are Lions fans.

“It’s so unique that four countries are shouting for you for a seven-week period. It is kind of bizarre, but it’s brilliant, and for them to have love for you as a collective for that period makes it unique and very, very special.

“You see it in the first-time Lions players, and you see how big it is for them. One hit of it is not enough. If you can get a second or a third hit, you crave that.

“You see it in the disappointment of those that didn’t get selected that this is the ultimate for a British or Irish player.

“It is a very special jersey, and the respect that jersey holds is identified with people always wanting it.”

O’Driscoll’s brilliant solo try at The Gabba in 2001 is one of the most replayed moments in modern-day Lions history.

So far, though, it is the only Test victory he has savoured as a Lion, and he added: “It is a different existence from 2001, the level of detail we go to.

“We did a long season in 2001, yet were still going out and doing hour, hour-and-a-half, sometimes two-hour pitch sessions, sometimes twice a day.

“If I did that now I’d have died a couple of weeks ago! You couldn’t survive that, such is the intensity of the games. You can’t train like Tarzan and play like Jane, you’ve got to do it the other way round.”

O’Driscoll has been impressed with the Lions class of 2013, showering praise on tour captain Sam Warburton and the forwards.

“I think if you have a look at our pack they are all bloody impressive players. It is exciting seeing yourself named in a team with forwards of that calibre,” he said.

Lions pack to roar, says Titterell: Page 3.