“It is so often about desire”

In his column for the Daily Telegraph today, Sir Ian McGeechan explained that at the top level, Lions level, desire is what makes the difference.

Specifically, he said: “All coaches speak about patterns and shapes. But they all know, too, that it is so often about desire.”

It is true at the top of any sport, when the margins between top athletes is so fine then pure desire and heart start to make a huge difference. Look at London 2012, nobody would say that Britain’s record haul of medals was because suddenly for one summer we got better at things – no, it was because the athletes were inspired, they believed in themselves and their team, they had a burning desire beyond any that they had had before.

Desire can come from many things but more often than not it comes from emotion, it comes from caring incredibly deeply about what you are doing, why you are doing it, and who you are doing it for.

It is why Brian O’Driscoll has been ringmaster in chief this week, he spoke to the team on Thursday, explaining that as a fresh faced kid in 2001 he was not too fussed about losing the Lions series because he figured there would be plenty of other chances; it has taken 12 years for another chance, 16 since the Lions last won a series.

Jonny Sexton and Rob Howley (who played in 2001 and coaches this time) spoke of the hairs on the back of their necks rising as O’Driscoll spoke. There is no doubt that the great Irishman wants this and he is doing everything in his power to make sure that everyone else in the squad understands how much they have to want it too.

There is no doubt that tomorrow will be one of, if not the, most high pressure and high intensity matches that any of these players have ever played in. The only game in recent memory that can compare is the second Test in 2009 when the Lions had to win to stay in the series.

Tomorrow is the reason that Warren Gatland placed so much emphasis on that Wales v England Six Nations championship decider in Cardiff. If you could not live with the pressure and intensity there then you have no chance tomorrow. A Lions tour is not about how good you are, it is about how good you are when it counts. It is about how you forget everything else that is going on and simply show your desire to do everything better than your opposite man, to give everything in pursuit of your common goal – because you have to.

It is at that point that that famous species that Sir Ian McGeechan has so often spoken about comes to the fore – Test Match Animals. That special group of players who when the pressure comes on are able to rise up, beyond their normal level of play to exude an air of coolness, desire, control and quality when all around faltering.

The Test Match Animal is, you might say, what Rudyard Kipling had in mind when he wrote If, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”

This Lions group has a few confirmed members of the Test Match Animal pride, O’Driscoll for one, Adam Jones and Alun Wyn Jones. George North and Leigh Halfpenny have proved themselves to be so during this tour. Sam Warburton and Dan Lydaite are two others of that special nature, whilst Jamie Heaslip and Jonny Sexton show all the signs of joining them. Geoff Parling and Tom Youngs might yet too.

It is why Warren Gatland was desperate to get Tommy Bowe back into the team, yes he is a sparkling attacker and a master defender but he is also a man who performs both tasks even better as more pressure comes on. They will need that.

They need it because if this were a column written by the Australian media it would say exactly the same, only with red names changed for gold names. The Wallabies have waited twelve years for this chance, they have their own Test Match Animals, the likes of Folau, Genia, Horwill and Beale.

The Lions are also deeply aware that they cannot count on getting the luck that they got last week. Had Beale not slipped we would have been talking about the Lions being a rabble that could not win against an Australian side with a flanker and a wing in the centres and a scrum half on the wing. Such are the margins at this level.

This week has to be about desire. History beckons for the Lions, by this time tomorrow they could all have become legends of the game. That is what winning a Lions series does.

Teams:

British & Irish Lions

15. Leigh Halfpenny 14. Tommy Bowe 13. Brian O’Driscoll 12. Jonathan Davies 11. George North 10. Jonny Sexton 9. Ben Youngs; 1. Mako Vunipola 2. Tom Youngs 3. Adam Jones 4. Alun Wyn Jones 5. Geoff Parling 6. Dan Lydiate 7. Sam Warburton (captain) 8. Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: 16. Richard Hibbard 17. Ryan Grant 18. Dan Cole 19. Tom Croft 20. Sean O’Brien 21. Conor Murray 22. Owen Farrell 23. Alex Cuthbert.

Australia

15. Kurtley Beale 14. Israel Folau 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper 12. Christian Leali’ifano 11. Joe Tomane 10. James O’Connor 9. Will Genia; 1. Benn Robinson 2. Stephen Moore 3. Ben Alexander 4. James Horwill (captain) 5. Kane Douglas 6. Ben Mowen 7. Michael Hooper 8. Wycliff Palu.

Replacements: 16. Saia Fainga’a 17. James Slipper 18. Sekope Kepu 19. Rob Simmons 20. Liam Gill 21. Nick Phipps 22. Rob Horne 23. Jesse Mogg.

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