The day is almost upon us. As Jim Telfer said as an excerpt in his famous pep talk as part of the 1997 tour, “This is your Everest boys”. Lions players on Saturday can become part of an exclusive group, a squad of players who won a test series in New Zealand. Will they do it? This article looks at key areas which may decide the outcome.
New Zealand made the bold decision to bring in at full-back for his first full international start, 20 years of age, Jordie Barrett, brother of Beauden and Scott Barrett who both are in the matchday squad. Jordie is a very talented rugby player, who has a high skill set and also which may be important, a good place kicker. All Blacks have replaced Waisake Naholo with Israel Dagg who switches from full-back to wing, and on the other wing, Rieko Ioane has been replaced by Julian Savea who comes back into the fold of international rugby.
In the centre, Ngani Laumape starts this week in place of suspended Sonny Bill Williams. Laumape is a strong ball carrying centre, who at times, caused the Lions issues last week, but also showed in defence a few lapses where Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell exposed him with slight of pass and players taking good angles of running from those two ball players.
The Lions have named an unchanged matchday squad for this encounter, Gatland showing complete faith in the squad who got them to this winner takes all match, has sent them out to do it again. There must have been some serious discussions such as in the loosehead position, where Mako Vunipola, gave away a number of penalties and picked up a yellow card. Also at the scrum, there were a few times it seemed Owen Franks got the upper hand, but overall Vunipola has had a strong tour and has been given the chance to repay the faith the coaching staff has shown in him.
The Lions will have to start strong, as New Zealand will be so fired up after the loss last week. Lions have to be strong in the contact area and slow the opposition ball down whenever possible, so as always, referee Roman Poite’s interpretation of how he referees the breakdown could play a major part in the outcome.
I fully expect New Zealand to try and put some width on their game this week, with ball players such as the Barrett brothers and Leinart-Brown in their midst and try to release “the bus” Julian Savea having an opportunity to run at Elliot Daly. New Zealand will carry hard again and look to offload and get speed at the rucks, to try to give Aaron Smith an armchair ride as he had in the first test. The breakdown will be key.
Lions I expect to test defensively Jordie Barrett and Julian Savea with their kicking game with the likes of Sexton, Farrell and Murray. Kick chase has to be spot on, make the tackles on the gain line and then compete, look for turnovers or penalties play a territory game and in the right areas, look to send ball runners at Laumape and Beauden Barrett and play off that.
For the Lions to win they have to be so accurate in all that they do, with the ball and without. They need to keep within scoring distance of New Zealand going into the last 20 minutes if they do that will be interesting to see how New Zealand deal with that pressure. World Champions, the hot favourites at Eden Park, with their amazing record, players and the crowd will feel that pressure, Lions need to make the most of that, and the usage of substitutions will be very important at the right time dependant on how the game is going.
Heart says British and Irish Lions to gain a sensational victory, but my head says New Zealand will have too much firepower and will win the series with a win by 10–15 points. Course if another New Zealander wants to have a brain explosion and get sent off as per the second test then please feel free.
Cannot wait for this one, come on Lions prove me wrong yet again, become heroes. Fingers crossed.