Former All Black great Christian Cullen has excused the Lions abject performance against the New Zealand Barbarians as a ‘scheduling hospital pass’ and stated that the real tour begins at Eden Park on Wednesday. He also pointed to two key areas which he believes will define the clash against the Blues.
In a column for allblacks.com, Cullen veered away from the kneejerk doomsday predictions of other sports journalists in the New Zealand media, and employed a more thoughtful approach. He attributed the sluggish play and pedestrian tactics of the Lions to a combination of the travel schedule, unfamiliar conditions and an inspired Barbarians side.
The 46 try legendary fullback did, however, sound a warning to the Lions: now is the time to front up, stating ‘the one supposedly easy warm-up game is history, the speed and intensity of their opposition ratchets up from here.’ Cullen acknowledged that Gatland has said that winning the tests was the primary objective of the tour, but Cullen countered this with the adage that ‘teams build confidence through winning.’
Cullen, who now commentates for Sky Sport New Zealand, claims that the battle amongst the forwards will decide the contest on Wednesday. He believes that if the Blues can achieve parity up front, then they will have too much firepower in their ‘potent’ backline for the Lions to handle. Cullen also pointed to one young player in the Blues backline who has been given a huge amount of responsibility: new starting flyhalf, 20 year Stephen Perofeta. The Blues have had a turnstile of flyhalves in recent seasons, with many fans believing that the lack of a classy playmaker as the main reason the talent rich side has not fulfilled its potential. Perofeta is the latest experiment. He made his debut off the bench against the Reds in Apia, and duly scored a decisive try in the second half. Perofeta, or ‘Perofuture’ as coach Tana Umaga has nicknamed him, was a New Zealand age grade representative and was retained by the Blues for Super 18 duties instead of joining the U20 World cup team in Georgia. Against the Reds, Perofeta looked poised and confident but in front of a full house at Eden Park against the Lions will surely test the youngsters nerve. On the Lions part, Cullen expects more of the same conservative approach, writing that ‘until their combinations start to click they will probably adopt a simple game plan and play what’s in front of them, taking all the points they are offered.’
Christian Cullen stated that at least one win against the Blues or Crusaders this week will be vital and warned that ‘to get knocked off twice will make New Zealand feel a lot smaller than it already is.’
So will the Lions have the blues on Wednesday evening – or will they have them? Another mediocre outing and Warren G may indeed need to regulate.