Alun Wyn Jones says his British and Irish Lions already have a siege mentality – and they have not even left home.
A month before the Test series against world champions South Africa the tourists play their first ever match together today against Japan, knowing there is no time to waste.
They also recognise that this will be the most challenging tour in history off the pitch, with Covid infections having hit a new high in the third wave ravaging the host country.
No Lions supporters are able to travel and Jones and his men are resigned to being holed up in bio-secure bubbles for the duration of the trip.
Against such a testing backdrop the tourists worked overtime at their training camp in Jersey this week to build social bonds.
They drank beer and sang songs and have arrived in Edinburgh for this afternoon’s curtain-raiser with a camaraderie they believe will see them through the darkest of hours of the coming weeks.
Tour captain Jones said: “In many ways, because the bubble is as such and will be going forward, it has let us develop a siege mentality from the start.
“Not against any rugby teams – but against the threats to the tour as a whole.
“The fact that we are spending more time together, there may be a bit of cabin fever at some point, but hopefully the most positive side effect will be performance and we’re all relishing that.”
Jones, the world’s most-capped player, is on his fourth Lions tour and knows what it takes to be successful.
“Yeah, but it’s the first one in a global pandemic with all the challenges off the field,” he interjected.
“In many ways we’re going to have a constant challenge off the field, but when we go on to the pitch that’s the opportunity to express ourselves. That isn’t going to be wasted.
“There is a definite recognition for how privileged we are to be here. There are a lot of people who have said it probably shouldn’t have gone ahead so we’re very fortunate and that resonates with the squad.”
Today’s game is the first of six Warren Gatland’s side play in a three week-period during which they must develop a team capable of beating the Springboks.
It could be one of the tougher, too, given Japan have chosen 10 of the team that started their quarter-final at the 2019 World Cup, though that was the last time they played.
The Lions opt for a Celtic flavour, given the venue, with not a single English player to start in front of a 16,500 crowd.
* Scotland have lost nine players for Sunday’s second string clash with England at Leicester after one of the squad tested positive for Covid.
British & Irish Lions: Williams; Adams, Henshaw, Aki, Van der Merwe; Biggar, Murray; Sutherland, Owens, Furlong, Henderson, AW Jones (capt), Beirne, Tipuric, Conan
Replacements: George, W Jones, Sinckler, Lawes, Faletau, Price, Farrell, A Watson.
Japan: Yamanaka; Matsushima, Lafaele, Nakamura, Fifita; Tamura, Shigeno; Inagaki, Sakate, Koo, Van der Walt, Moore, Leitch (capt), Labuschagne, Mafi.
Replacements: Horikoshi, Millar, Ai Valu, Cornelson, Himeno, Tatafu, Saito, Matsuda.