In an article for AllBlacks.com, Zinzan Brooke urges the Lions to seize the moment as it will be “the closest they’ll get to the All Blacks.” He expects the world champions to come together as a side as the series progresses and so the Lions hot run of form must be capitalised on sooner rather than later. Brooke doesn’t expect the strategies and conditions produce a high-scoring game but “it will almost certainly be a tight game.”
Like many other commentators, Brooke was surprised with the omissions of Welsh pair George North and Leigh Halfpenny in favour of Liam Williams and Elliot Daly, but was otherwise impressed by the quality of the team. Brooke praised the midfield combination of Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies and also the halves pairing of Conor Murray and Owen Farrell.
Brooke, therefore, foresees a lot of high kicks, fast line speed on defence and territorial domination from the men in red.
In naming the most dangerous players, Brooke veers away from the starting XV and points to the power and skills of the Lions bench with players like Maro Itoje, CJ Stander and Sam Warburton. He says the last 30 minutes will be crucial as the All Blacks take control of games in this period, but the talent on the Lions bench “is pretty much on the money.”
Brooke sounds a warning about Gatland’s aerial bombardment strategy, noting that Steve Hansen has stacked his back line with players who are comfortable under the high ball and he cites Rieko Ioane’s surprise selection ahead of Julian Savea as an example of Hansen’s reaction to this ‘telegraphed’ strategy.
In other observations, Brooke warns that Aaron Smith will have to be “on his absolute A-game” against Conor Murray, who is “one of the top halfbacks in the world at the moment.” Brooke also nominates All Black captain Kieran Read as one who will have a big game. He sees Read’s long-term injury from a broken thumb as having ‘a silver lining’ as a refreshed Read will “ be treating Saturday’s game like his debut, and the excitement he’ll be feeling will be infectious.”
Zinzan Brooke finishes his article with a final punt that the first test at Eden Park will ”go down to the wire” and he “can’t wait to see who will take a real stranglehold of this series!”