EXCLUSIVE; There is no manual on how to become a great Lion says Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson had to endure the mental pressure of having to win a Lions second test in Wellington in 2005 having been beaten a week earlier by the All Blacks and believes the current players have to adopt an “ all or nothing” approach tomorrow if they are to keep this series alive.

Twelve years ago Wilkinson and his Lions team mates failed in their bid to save the series, going down 48-18 thanks to Dan Carter’s 33 point masterclass and it made the build up to the final test a massive downer.

Wilkinson, a Lion in 2001 and 2005, has strong memories of the 21-3 first test loss to the All Blacks which also saw captain Brian O’Driscoll badly injured, making the build up to the Wellington match even harder. He said: ”You have to shut the third test right out of your thinking and it doesn’t exist. The players have to make a pact which says they are happy to give absolutely everything – that is how serious it is.

“It was a very difficult position going into the second test in Wellington in 2005. It was tense, tough and quite tricky. There was the distraction of looking back on that first test and wondering why and how we had lost plus the “what ifs” of losing the second one and the series.

“ The Lions will have to give everything and trying to get a lead and hanging on just won’t work. I have never seen a team hang on in New Zealand. Discipline and not giving away penalties is key but players have be performing on the edge and if you look at the All Blacks you would say they don’t give many away, but just look how close they are to that fine line. That is where they are so good and if they are over the line then they do it in a way that is not seen. “

History shows that only the 1971 Lions have won a series in New Zealand and the problems of touring the country and trying to beat the No1 team in the world can become worryingly daunting. Wilkinson insists that past Lions glory should be acknowledged, but not used as a template for this current tour and it is vital the class of 2017 make their own history.

“You can get a little bit distracted by believing you should be feeling a certain way because it is the Lions ; “added Wilkinson, England’s 2003 World Cup hero who played in six Lions tests. “ Although the shirt represents all the Lions tours that have taken place it is not a case of comparing with 1971 or 2005. There is no rule book and you have to try to be the best you can be and that can go missing sometimes because the Lions is so big. The only thing that will win the test match on Saturday is the very best of each of them individually.

“History matters and it is inspiring but those winning Lions tour of the past were achieved by players being the best they could be at that point. These Lions players have to go out onto the pitch for the second test thinking “ I am going to take every opportunity to be all of me”. There is no rule book on how to prepare to be a Lion and it is about releasing the potential inside you to do something phenomenal. It is about saving the team with a tackle on the line and then getting up and saying “ right what is my next job.” That clarity of purpose is so important.”

Wilkinson believes this Lions team can upset the All Blacks tomorrow although he accepts the world champions are operating smoothly with Beauden Barrett pulling the tactical strings at No10. However, he has seen reasons to back the Lions to square the series and said: “This Lions team is on a big upward curve and we need to accelerate that rise. At the moment the All Blacks are stressing everyone else out by the level of their intensity and speed. You can handle it for so long and then it becomes too much and when teams try to keep up then that is the point where they really take over. To win, the Lions have to go above New Zealand’s level and while that is tough it comes down to ruthlessness at one end and inspiration and creativity at the other and you must combine the two and believe the opposition will break.

“ Beauden Barrett is part of an evolutionary process like Grant Fox, Andrew Mehrtens and Dan Carter. As a youngster Barrett saw what Carter was doing and the effortless nature of what he is now producing also comes from a team that is functioning beautifully.“
as seen in Evening Standard