By Nick Said
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Courtney Lawes admits he may take a bit of time to get up to full speed for the British and Irish Lions after an injury-ravaged Premiership season left doubt in his own mind as to whether he would travel to South Africa with the team.
Lawes has been selected at flank when the visitors open their eight-game tour against the Johannesburg-based Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, which will be his first taste of the rock-hard Highveld pitches, having never played in South Africa before.
"It was very humbling to get the call-up while still injured," he told reporters on Friday. "I have hardly played any rugby this season, but luckily I have been able to come back and hit the ground running.
"I am still yet to feel really comfortable on the pitch, but for every minute I get I think I will keep improving. I would have preferred a bit more rugby under me. I generally take a little bit of time to really get going."
The South African Lions have selected a young group of players in what should be a soft start for the tourists, but Lawes expects the home side to be fired-up for the challenge.
"Regardless of who you play, as the Lions team the opposition are always going to be gunning for you. I’ve never played in South Africa before so I don’t really know what to expect. But we will look to impose our physicality on the game."
He doubts there will be too much off-the-ball niggle though, especially from the visitors.
"We’ve got some pretty level-headed players so we are not going to start scrapping in the first game of the tour. But I am sure they (the home team) will come out flying."
Lawes can also play at lock, but is happy to fill the number six jersey if that is where the team wants to use him.
"I am just going to play how I play, regardless of what position. That will contribute to the team, then it is up to the coaches where they see me or want to play me."
(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Hugh Lawson)