It’s no secret that the All Blacks have lost some huge players in recent years – Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Kevin Mealamu, Ma’a Nonu, Conrad Smith – that’s a massive amount of caps and experience to lose from a team, even one with has massive depths of talent such as New Zealand.
One of the main talking points this week ahead of the final Test at Eden Park is the lack of experience in the All Blacks side which Steve Hansen has named. Both Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape are both starting their first game for the All Blacks. Even Anton Lienert-Brown only has 12 caps to his name.
Nevertheless, the All Blacks are a formidable outfit regardless and they really should have beaten the Lions last weekend, even when they were reduced to 14 men for the majority of the game.
That loss, according to Ronan O’Gara writing in his column for the Irish Examiner, could be down to a lack of leadership in the All Blacks side, he writes:
Racing 92 returned to pre-season training this week and I had an interesting conversation with Joe Rokocoko about leadership. He noted that in the pressure moments of the second Test, the Lions were dotted with leaders — Wyn-Jones, the entire back-row, Davies, Farrell, Sexton, and Murray. Then he named the coterie of leaders that New Zealand rugby has lost in recent times — from Carter to McCaw, from Nonu to Mealamu.
After the loss of Sonny Bill Williams as well, there was a sense, he felt, that the All Blacks ran on autopilot for a while, but when the Lions cranked it up late on, were there enough leaders in black?
It’s an interesting opinion and one which may hold some truth – there will be a huge Lions support at the All Blacks’ fortress of Eden Park tomorrow, which is something the players would not be used too. They will be under a level of pressure which they have not experienced too many times before.
How they react to that pressure will likely contribute to the outcome of this game and the series.