Jonny Wilkinson believes the British & Irish Lions are about to experience ‘a whole different ball game’ on their New Zealand tour.
The Lions play the penultimate match before a three-Test series against New Zealand on Saturday when they tackle Otago in Dunedin.
And, while all fixtures so far – Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, New Zealand Maori and Wellington – have challenged the Lions, supporting head coach Sir Clive Woodward’s view of there being no easy games, the All Blacks are waiting to crank things up a few gears.
"Test matches are a very separate entity from these other games. We saw that on the last two Lions tours in 1997 (South Africa) and 2001 (Australia)," said Wilkinson.
"Test matches are one-offs in themselves, and the first Test against Australia four years ago showed that.
"You could say it came out of the blue – the New South Wales game just beforehand wasn’t necessarily a great game – but Test matches can bring out a real intensity in people and that is not to be underestimated.
"When the pressure is really on and these big games come around and they really do mean the be-all and end-all, that’s when you need your big performances. There are players here that you would expect it from."
He added: "Just because there has been one loss (against the Maori), doesn’t mean anything changes.
"This is only my second Lions tour but you just keep going until the next game and I think both sides go into the first Test with a certain element of the unknown. It’s a whole different ball game."
Wilkinson faces competition for the Test fly-half berth in Christchurch on Saturday week with Charlie Hodgson, Stephen Jones and Ronan O’Gara all in contention.
Hodgson produced a magnificent display in running the show against Taranaki, and he has another chance to impress at Carisbrook this weekend.
Wilkinson has started just two games since recovering from his latest knee injury, the latest being the 23-6 win over Wellington, and is starting to regain his match sharpness.
The prodigious left boot swung well, collecting 13 points, and Woodward must shortly decide who is handed the key to number 10.
"They were difficult conditions," said Wilkinson, reflecting on the victory at Westpac Stadium. "It was blustery out on the pitch for both teams, with a wet ball.
"The number 10’s job is to really try and bring it all together, so in a way, that is a balancing act.
"You have to think about bringing everyone else into the game, as well as your own responsibilities like kicking out of hand, kicking for goal and calling some of the plays.
"It is very important not to try and do too much but at the same time you have to understand other peoples’ game.
"You have to understand when they want the ball, how they want the ball and where they are going to be on the field."