The Lions' trip up State Highway 1 would have been a good one last night after their win over the Chiefs. There's nothing like a victory, and a convincing one at that, to bring a team closer.

The celebrations started in the Waikato Stadium changing rooms with a sing-song before the bus was boarded.

Loose forward James Haskell, the self-proclaimed story teller in the group, may have been pressed into service on the microphone, and front rower Dan Cole, the facts man of the team (albeit with a bone-dry delivery according to Haskell), might have kept the entertainment coming as they powered along the Waikato Expressway to Auckland to prepare for the first test which has seemed like a long time coming.

The time for words, and predictions, is nearly over, as the Lions prepare to test themselves against the All Blacks, and it is their top team's pack - dominant against the Crusaders and NZ Maori - which will receive perhaps the biggest examination.


If Warren Gatland's men can't dominate here, they have little chance of winning. The road to their victories over the Crusaders, Maori and Chiefs were paved by their forwards' set piece excellence, although they wobbled in Christchurch at times against what was effectively an All Black front five often bemused by the rulings of French referee Mathieu Raynal.

Scrum coach Graham Rountree today spoke of the lessons learned in that 12-3 win in their third game of the tour, one which effectively turned their trip around after their poor start and which set their game plan template.

He said he has the highest respect for the All Blacks' set piece, and their scrum coach Mike Cron, but believes his players have put in the required work and are peaking at the right time.

"Best in the world, consistently - I think they've proven that over two World Cups," former England prop Rowntree said of the All Blacks. "They're very efficient, [with an] excellent lineout defence, particularly with Kieran Read in the mix. And the scrum, my department - they've been leading the charge for quite a long time now. They're exceptionally well coached by Mike Cron; an honest team, an efficient, honest forward pack.

"We've got our hands full, but luckily we've had some good challenges over the last two weeks. I'm really happy with how the boys have adapted. You saw the challenges we had at scrum time in Otago, on a couple of occasions - against the Crusaders as well, against an All Blacks front five, basically.

"But the guys have learned and they're adapting well. Those games, those encounters, those challenges are what we need to learn and be able to step up a gear for this pack at the weekend which as I've said I think is the best in the world.

"They're in good nick. We have trained them hard and fast, which you have to do to play the All Blacks. The ball is on the field for a long time, it's a quick game so we've trained them exceptionally hard. We've put them under a lot of stress and they're fit and we've done pretty well injury-wise so far."

Rowntree was delighted with his team's 80-minute performance in the 34-6 win against the Chiefs, who tried but failed to slip the red defensive noose at Waikato Stadium.


So, clearly, was Warren Gatland, who after watching his Wales team succumb to a limp defeat at the hands of the Chiefs 12 months ago, got the victory he was craving in front of family and friends.

Rowntree, asked about Gatland, said the Kiwi coach was good at saying the right thing at the right time. "He doesn't talk too much, in fact his mantra is 'less is more'.

"He spoke exceptionally well to the group last night before we left the hotel. He spoke with real passion, but he's measured - he knows how to pick the tone up or bring it down."