Alun Wyn Jones has insisted the British and Irish Lions will laugh off all the brickbats over their punishing schedule and Test series chances in New Zealand.
Outside voices have lined up to criticise the Lions’ 10-match touring plan in New Zealand, with All Blacks coach Steve Hansen claiming he would never have accepted the blueprint.
Former Lions coach Sir Graham Henry dubbed the 2017 schedule “suicidal” while England boss Eddie Jones warned Warren Gatland’s men will lose the three-Test series if they mimic Wales’ playing style.
The Lions touched down in Auckland on Wednesday and open the tour against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on Saturday – but Wales lock Jones maintained Gatland’s men are not stung by any of that flak.
Asked if it was time for the criticism to stop, Jones replied: “We could say yes but people always have their opinion. It gives us a lot to laugh about. People will always have their opinions, but I think for the most part people are saying things out of concern.
“But it’s not supposed to be easy when you come down here, and it’s not going to be, so it’s a case of getting down to it. And the people that want to support us and approach the schedule in the same that the players will are I’m sure the ones who will still be with us at the end.”
Jones insisted the Lions’ biggest responsibility in New Zealand lies not with the potent squad living up to its billing on paper – instead he believes the 2017 squad must continue to safeguard the future of the famed touring side.
“When I came into the Australia tour in 2013 people were talking about dropping the Lions altogether because we hadn’t won a series in so long,” said Jones. “It’s funny that you then win one and people want to preserve it for as long as possible.
“So I think there’s more responsibility to the Lions jersey than the tour itself or the people who have gone before. I think that’s the point of note, the point of difference, for us to carry here.
“With the advent of professionalism there’s always going to be that question on the Lions’ future, because it’s businesses as well as organisations putting money into players, and they need to be represented.
“But I think it’s something that needs to be preserved, it’s what makes rugby special and I’m sure there’s a few southern hemisphere teams that would want it to be sustained as well.”