Rob wants ruthless Lions

Rob Howley wants the British & Irish Lions to continue playing with intent and ambition against the Queensland Reds tonight as they seek to hone the ruthless approach that could take them to Test glory later this month. [more]

Rob wants ruthless Lions

Rob Howley wants the British & Irish Lions to continue playing with intent and ambition against the Queensland Reds tonight as they seek to hone the ruthless approach that could take them to Test glory later this month.

Assistant coach Howley has been pleased with what he’s seen so far after The Lions crossed for 17 tries in their opening two fixtures and refused to take their foot off the gas against the Barbarians and the Western Force despite the games being as good as over before the final quarter.

The 1997 and 2001 Lions scrum-half knows that the class of 2013 will have to mirror that attitude and become even more clinical later today if they are to keep building towards a first series success in 16 years.

“Everyone’s talked about the opposition over the last two games but our intensity in the last 15 minutes, our accuracy, us being ruthless and our intent to keep playing rugby is really important,” said Howley.

“Ultimately, that’s where games are going to be won in the next few weeks and we need to make sure our intensity and preparation throughout these games is the same as it is in the first 15 minutes. We need to make sure we don’t drop off in our skills, our decision making and our line speed.

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“We’re pretty happy with 17 tries in the first two games. Our conversion rate on line breaks is pretty good – you’re talking over 80 per cent. But when it comes to Test matches, it has to be 100 per cent. You have to be clinical and ruthless in those areas.

“In terms of the shape and patterns that we are wanting to play, it’s important that we have intent and ambition.

“We’ve got world-class players in terms of their skill sets, whether it’s physicality or creativity. We want good players on the ball making good decisions and putting other players into space.

“When you look at the skill sets of our No6s, No7s and No8s, we want them on the ball. You look back at the last two games, what great markers two players put down in Toby Faletau and Jamie Heaslip.

“Competition is a wonderful thing in a rugby team and that will continue over the next two weeks before the Test series. It’s important that we keep creating that competitive edge, that will to get back into the game and to be on the ball as often as you can.”

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Rob Howley is keen to see The Lions continue to keep ball in hand and challenge the Reds' defence

Head coach Warren Gatland spoke at the very outset of the 10-match tour about his desire to give every player a start in the first three games but Howley insists that it isn’t a case of just looking at who has and hasn’t played and then simply slotting them into a random XV.

Far more thought goes into the process than that as you would expect, with Howley making it clear that the aim of the coaching staff is to ensure the talents of each player are maximised by the men around them.

“We’re trying to make the best of players’ skill sets. It’s about getting the best out of that person. As a coach, you want to maximise their opportunity to put their hand up to play in the first Test,” added Howley.

“From a backs’ perspective, it was really good to see Brian O’Driscoll and Manu Tuilagi together on Wednesday. They are different centres with different skills but I was really pleased with their ability to feed off each other.

“I’d like to see similar from the centre combination that we have out against the Reds in Jon and Manu. That’s what’s going to ultimately give us difficult decisions to make. We want to see all our centres together as different combinations to bring the best out of each other.    

“Trying to balance that and working on technical and tactical aspects of our game to make sure that we’re ready for the first Test, that’s the challenge.

“We’ve spoken about players and coaches being open minded and that’s a really important part of being involved with The Lions. You trust your players, you trust their talent and you want to give them that opportunity.”

One opposition player The Lions will have to keep an eye on today is Reds fly-half Quade Cooper.

The 23-year-old may have fallen out of favour with the Qantas Wallabies but he still makes the Reds tick and will no doubt be looking for a scalp after being chosen to captain the Queensland side for the first time.

Cooper remains one of the most dangerous attacking players in the global game and Howley is under no illusions as to the size of the threat he, and the rest of the Reds team, will pose.

“He will have a point to prove to Robbie Deans and he is one person we’ve spoken about.

“He’s very intuitive and he has the ability to take the ball to the line and create opportunities for others around him. When teams have players like him in their ranks they want them to have the ball as often as possible and it’s important we don’t give him time on the ball.

“We’ve seen his performances in the Super XV and we have to make sure we get our spacing right. Defence is about communication and getting off your line and being organised.

“Over the last two or three weeks, we’ve just talked about the basics, about making sure that you are working as one line, talking and communicating on the inside. It’s going to be a good test for us.

“We set a marker on Wednesday but it’s great to have respect from the Reds when you look at the side they’ve put out against us. There’s a lot of quality in there – players who will be playing against The Lions for the first time and players who have played international rugby and may have a point to prove to Robbie Deans.

“It’s something that we’re ready for to take our team to the next level. We went to another level on Wednesday in both areas of our game – attack and defence – but this will be a much sterner test.

“It’s a big game in a) the context of the opposition, and b) in terms of the selection process moving forward.”

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