Allan Martin, the Classic Lions manager, believes the World Rugby Classic is becoming harder to win after watching his side defeat Rugby Italian Classic XV at North Field on Monday.
The Lions were pushed every step of the way in their 20-13 victory over the bellicose Italians and will now face the Classic Pumas, the defending champions, in the semi-finals tomorrow night.
Up first, though, will be the Ireland Rugby Legends against a Rugby Canada side fresh from a superb 26-24 win over the Classic Springboks on the opening day on Sunday.
That semi-final starts at 8.30pm tonight after the Springboks face France Classic Rugby in the Plate semis at 7pm.
“Nobody said it was going to be easy,” said Welshman Martin, who won one cap for the British and Irish Lions in 1977.
“None of the games are easy now. All of these guys are former pros and they keep themselves in good condition.
“It’s a difficult competition to win and it’s becoming tougher. It’s a competition everybody wants to win.”
Martin, 69, has also called for the officials to get tougher after a war of words between Lions scrum half Andrew Jenkins and a member of the Italian coaching staff during the second half of Monday’s game.
“You’ve got to referee these guys hard,” he said. “If there’s any foul play, they have to be dealt with accordingly for the good of the sport.
“You can’t have what we saw today [Monday] ... people on the side getting involved with players. That’s not what this is about.
“Being the people that we are, we’re all competitive, but ten minutes later it will be forgotten.”
Martin is confident the Lions will improve after dusting off some cobwebs against Italy.
“We generally get better as the tournament goes on, but then so does everyone else,” Martin said.
“We’ve just got to tighten it up a little bit. It could have gone either way; it was down to mistakes in the end. We used the wind quite well in the second half and kept [Italy] in their own half.
“Towards the end, they tired a bit more. Their defence was superb and they were very difficult to crack. They could have had a bounce of the ball and been under the posts.
Martin added: “We’ve got some good players and some exciting runners behind. The crowd want to see that and I hope that’s what will happen.”