COMBINED Country face a British and Irish Lions outfit at Hunter Stadium tonight that are bigger, stronger, more experienced and, to be brutally honest, a class above.
One aspect the boys from the bush won’t be lacking is motivation.
For most of the squad – a mixture of amateurs and Super Rugby fringe dwellers – it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to pit themselves against the best from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.
All are either playing in country areas or have country origins.
In some cases, their selection to take on the Lions is the biggest coup for their home town this year.
‘‘They all have a history of family ties in the country or have grown up there or a long playing history in the country,’’ said Combined Country coach Cam Blades, who was part of an Australian A side that upset the Lions 28-25 in 2001. ‘‘A lot of them are from remote regional areas. We know those folk come with a real work ethic, a never-say-die attitude and that is a great thing.
‘‘If every coach went into a camp knowing those things were already ingrained in their players, three-quarters of the job is done.
‘‘Obviously, a few of the younger guys will get butterflies, but you generally find once the game is a minute or two old it is just another game of rugby and their instincts kick in.’’
Already up against it, Combined Country suffered a blow yesterday when their lone Test representative, one-cap Wallaby flanker Beau Robinson, was ruled out after suffering a head knock in the Queensland Reds’ 22-12 loss to the Lions on Saturday.
‘‘Once it was clear he had lost consciousness, there is a seven-day return to play protocol that has to be followed,’’ Blades said.
Reds teammate Jarrad Butler switches from blindside to cover for Robinson. Richard Stanford is the new No.6 and Rory Arnold comes on the bench.
Despite the loss of Robinson, the second row and back row make up five of the eight Super Rugby players in the run-on side.
‘‘We have a bit of experience in the back five of the scrum,’’ Blades said.
‘‘I will be looking to those guys to really lead the way there. The Lions are pretty red-hot in that area, too.’’
Captain Tim Davidson is the most experienced Country player with 39 Super appearances.
‘‘It is a huge challenge but one we are looking forward to,’’ Davidson said.
‘‘They have two arms and two legs just like us. Once you get over the fact that they’re all international players, you can just play. We can’t go in with a defeatist attitude. They will just sense it and the floodgates open.
‘‘All I’ve said to the boys is that we’ve got nothing to lose, they’ve got everything to lose.’’
Queensland, despite going down 22-12, exposed some frailties in the Lions, if only momentary.
Though encouraged by the Reds’ performance, Blades was reluctant to nominate areas Country may target.
‘‘The Lions will be strong one through to 15,’’ Blades said. ‘‘We are not kidding ourselves, it is going to be a massive challenge.
‘‘We have some specific areas we are looking at being very proficient in and off the back of that, looking to attack.
‘‘Obviously, attitude in defence will be key to all of that.
‘‘Getting our line set and getting some good line speed and aggression.
‘‘We don’t want to get in a wrestling match with them.’’
In a sign of the herculean task facing the locals, the Lions have amassed 505 Tests between them.
The gulf in experience is greatest in the centres where Junior Siakisini (Gold Coast) and Wanderers’ Lewie Catt will oppose Jamie Roberts and Brian O’Driscoll, the likely midfield partnership for the opening Test.
‘‘They need to be up for that challenge,’’ Blades said.
‘‘Lewie has a certain skill set he brings to the table and he needs to make sure, within the structures we are playing, that he does his job.’’