Larder longs for Lions series triumph

British & Irish Lions defence coach Phil Larder is desperate for a Test series victory over New Zealand to make up for the painful disappointment of losing to Australia four years ago. [more]

Lions Australia Tour 2013

British & Irish Lions defence coach Phil Larder is desperate for a Test series victory over New Zealand to make up for the painful disappointment of losing to Australia four years ago.

Larder, the only full-time defence coach employed by any of the home unions at the time, was a key member of Graham Henry’s Lions management team on the 2001 tour Down Under.

The Test series ended in a 2-1 defeat as the drained Lions ground to a halt and allowed Australia to come back after losing the opening game in Brisbane.

That experience remains a painful blot on Larder’s otherwise glittering CV and one he believes can only be erased with a victory over the All Blacks on what is generally considered the hardest of all rugby tours.

"What I’d like to put straight personally is the disappointment of losing to Australia four years ago, the last time I was working with the Lions," Larder said.

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"There are two things that irk me. One was losing the 1995 Rugby League World Cup final against Australia at Wembley. We made up for that in Sydney at the Rugby World Cup.

"It would be good to win the series over here and ease the memories of losing in Australia four years ago that were quite painful."

There were initial fears from watching the 25-25 draw against Argentina that Larder might be destined for a similarly heart-breaking trip.

The Lions’ defensive line lacked shape and cohesion in the Millennium Stadium and if it could be cut to ribbons by Argentina then what damage might the All Blacks’ stunning back division inflict?

But Larder has few concerns. This time round he is working with Mike Ford, the former Ireland defensive coach, and all the players are well versed in the art of defending.

The tour has been structured differently so Larder does not expect the players to be pushed through as many lengthy, intense training sessions as they were four years ago.

The hardest part has been schooling the Welsh contingent in the ‘up-and-out’ system employed by Larder, as opposed to Clive Griffiths’ ‘up-and-in’ variety.

But he is confident all players will have cracked the code by the first Test against the All Blacks on June 25 in Christchurch.

"Four years ago it was exceptionally difficult and we had to build from very little knowledge," said Larder.

"This year it has been much easier. All four countries have defensive coaches, some of them have done an excellent job and it has made my job and Mike Ford’s job easier. We can work at a far more intense and sophisticated level.

"Looking back, one of the major differences with this tour so far is that the 10 days we spent in Wales we were preparing to play rugby.

"Four years ago we did team building exercises which meant when we arrived in Australia we had to start building the foundations of our attacking game, our defensive game and our kicking game.

"We have already put that in place. We are much further down the track so there is no need to have the same number of training sessions we had in Australia.

"In Wales we didn’t prepare for Argentina. We just tried to put into place a foundation to build on. We are in the infancy and as the tour develops and we build up momentum, things will be become more solid."

Victory on Saturday is vital for that momentum but Larder is expecting a fierce and physical encounter with Bay of Plenty.

When the two sides met 22 years ago – Sir Clive Woodward was playing centre and the Lions won 34-16 – an almighty dust-up ensued in the opening minutes.

Larder does not expect to see anything like the all-in brawl of 1983, but he is expecting a tough game.

"We realise every team has an opportunity to play against us and upset our momentum. We are aware Bay of Plenty are looking forward to having the first shot at us," said Larder.

"But I think the days of rugby teams at this level playing dirtily have past by now. There are so many camera angles on the action. I think the game will be exceptionally tough but I don’t think we will see a dirty game.

"It’s important this Saturday that we win and it would be nice to win well because we are trying to get the tour momentum. When we get a touring team into some kind of momentum, one game picks up from the other."

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