Lions a 'catalyst' for Oz resurgence

Tue, 28 May 2013 07:53
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Reds coach Ewen McKenzie believes that the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour and better luck have resulted in raised standards Down Under this season.

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie believes that the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour and better luck have resulted in raised standards Down Under this season.

The Australian Super Rugby conference has been far more competitive this year than in the past, with minnows the Rebels and Force claiming some big scalps and the Waratahs lifting themselves out of the bottom third of the standings.

McKenzie's Reds team have been the pace-setters in Australia for the last few years, winning the competition in 2011 and edging out Jake White's Brumbies to top the conference last year, but those two sides have not had it as easy this year.

The Waratahs have started playing to their potential after a horror show last year despite their high ratio of Wallabies, and the Rebels and Force have proved that they are no pushovers with some plucky performances.

Whilst the carrot of possible selection for the Wallabies squad to face the Lions has been a crucial part of this resurgence, McKenzie pointed out that there have also been far less injuries to deal with this year.

He told this website: "Obviously the Lions is a bit of a catalyst, but all these injuries are just timing. We are having better luck this year.

"We have just got more fit players, last year there was a bunch of injuries but now we have got the bulk of the key players on the field and we have just got to make the most of that," said McKenzie.

With just one match left before the June break, there could be some danger of players losing focus ahead of the Lions series, but McKenzie was adamant that his team will not let anything distract them from their game against the Rebels in Brisbane on Saturday.

"We don't see an impact of the Lions tour at all in our discussions. It is obviously ever-present in the newspapers back there, but I don't see the players talking about it, they are quite determined to do well for the Reds," he said.

With six places still up for grabs in Wallabies coach Robbie Deans' final squad, there is plenty for those Reds players who are not currently in the mix to prove, especially as they face the Lions the week after they play the Rebels.

"We have got a bunch of guys who have been involved with the Wallabies in the last 12 months and missed out on the squad, but the best thing for all of them is to perform. Injuries are happening every week and people are droppping out.

"In two weeks time the Reds are playing the Lions so we have got that - we are the first cab off the rank in terms of the provinces so the rest of the guys who aren't in the Wallabies squad at the moment will get a chance to show what they have got," McKenzie explained.

By Michael de Vries

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