Rob Howley has laid bare the levels of bravery and desire that will be required when the British and Irish Lions go for Test series glory against Australia.
The tourists are one win away from achieving what no other Lions squad has managed since South Africa 16 years ago when players like Scott Gibbs, Jeremy Guscott and Keith Wood were in their pomp.
After going 1-0 up in the series last Saturday, a ferocious sense of determination exists to seal the deal today and render next week’s Sydney finale irrelevant.
Lions assistant coach Howley, though, knows from painful personal experience how quickly things can unravel.
He was part of the Lions team that crushed Australia 29-13 in Brisbane 12 years ago, but they were then swamped 35-14 on Melbourne soil a week later before losing the Test series decider by six points.
“This Lions jersey demands you to have no respect for your body and you must be 100 per cent fit,” said Howley.
“I always talk about the ingredients of being composed and taking the opportunities. In the hurly-burly of battle, the emotional intelligence of decision-making and being accurate is what Test match football is about.
“The side that has been selected has Test match animals that have made decisions in games. They understand what is required (today).
“We talk about 80 games of one minute – that is the concentration level you need.
“It’s about the trust and the unity which you have in the team in attack and defence, it’s about the side that takes the opportunity. That is Test match football.
“The players are really looking forward to it. They have been overwhelmed by the support that has been over here, and they just want to get going.”
Howley revealed that four-time Lions tourist Brian O’Driscoll – the genial Irish centre who starts his eighth Lions Test today – has played an integral part during this week’s preparations.
Like Howley, O’Driscoll was part of the failed 2001 series bid Down Under. At 34, it is now or never for a player who also missed out on the spoils in 2005 (New Zealand) and 2009 (South Africa).
“If there is probably one player that deserves it more than anyone else, it is Brian O’Driscoll,” added Howley.
“He has been fantastic for northern hemisphere and world rugby, but it shows just how hard it is to win a Test series.
“He spoke (on Thursday), and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Brian talked about those experiences and doing everything you can between now and kick-off, and it was just the edge which made the group re-focus.
“And (yesterday) in training they were fantastic and good to go. We are aware of the Wallabies’ strengths. It will be one hell of a Test match. There is an attitude to go 2-0 – that has been spoken about. Going back to what Brian said, it’s about seizing the moment and taking the opportunity.
“We go in 1-0 up and we can put Australia to bed. That is the goal and our mindset.”
Both sides have been forced into changes, with injuries sidelining Lions forwards Alex Corbisiero and Paul O’Connell, while Wallabies backs Berrick Barnes, Digby Ioane and Pat McCabe are all absent.
There is also a disciplinary cloud hanging over Australia captain James Horwill.
Despite being cleared at a judicial hearing of stamping on Alun-Wyn Jones in the first Test, the International Rugby Board has now appealed that decision and there is huge uncertainty surrounding his availability for a possible series decider in Sydney next week.
And Howley is wary of what he described as “the wounded Wallaby”.
“They will come out and want to play rugby,” he said. “That’s the game they play. It is about being alert, not allowing them to take quick tap penalties. We need to be aware the whole time, and that’s what this jersey requires (today). They (Australia) are going to come out and play high risk, high reward.”
Key to Australia’s ambitions will be the performance of their gifted scrum-half playmaker Will Genia, whose breathtaking ability was showcased last weekend when he created an opening try for wing Isreal Folau.
Ben Youngs, and not Mike Phillips, now has the task of going head-to-head with Genia in what promises to be a significant individual contest.
“We are aware of Genia’s threats,” added Howley.
“We talk about Ben Youngs being equally a running threat, and we will pose problems around the ruck. It’s about speed of ball and not giving them that. That’s when Australia create holes.
“The players are very focused. They have got on with their jobs this week, and that is what they need to do in a Test match.”
Back’s dilemma. Page 4