Ex-All Black and Harlequins fly-half Nick Evans is ready for a ‘hell of a series’ against New Zealand and has selected a Lions backline in which he uses combinations, power and pace to name a formidable lineup.
In an interview with The Rugby Paper, Evans urges Warren Gatland to play to the Lions’ strengths, which is ‘territorial, really powerful rugby early on’.
Evans does not venture a forward selection, but the Harlequins playmaker, who also made 16 appearances for the All Blacks, is happy to put forward his advice on backline tactics and selection.
Evans, who scored 33 points in one game for the All Blacks, selects Conor Murray, Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell at 9, 10 and 12 because “Farrell fits in perfectly at inside-centre for England and, with him being able to play at 10 as well, that opens up a spot on the bench.”
The 36-year-old is aware that it takes a 23-man team to beat the All Blacks as they often run riot in the final quarter of matches when they bring on fresh legs off the bench.
“If you had a backline of Murray, Sexton, Liam Williams, Farrell, Robbie Henshaw, Anthony Watson and Stuart Hogg, that’s a pretty solid unit, and you can then put somebody like Jonathan Joseph or Elliot Daly on the bench to mix things up.”
The nature of the Lions composite team means that combinations in key playmaking roles will be crucial, in Evans’ view.
“I like a 9/10 combination that play for the same team internationally.
“Murray and Sexton being able to work well together helps enormously, both tactically and in terms of their kicking game.”
The former Blues man also likes the idea of being direct and powerful in midfield and then utilising the pace available out wide on the wings.
“Farrell and Henshaw can work together, no problem at all, and you’ve got flyers out wide so when Henshaw’s battered the All Blacks midfield down you bring Joseph or Daly on to change up the game by going wider against tired opponents.”
New Zealand whitewashed the Sir Clive Woodward-coached Lions 3-0 in 2005, with Dan Carter dominating the series, but Evans believes that these three Tests, beginning on June 24, will be much tighter.
He sees a few headaches developing for Steve Hansen in both form and fitness.
“There’s a few injuries in New Zealand’s back three to guys like Israel Dagg and Waisake Naholo, while Ben Smith is probably not at the top end of his game, so you’ll probably see guys like Jordie Barrett coming in to their back-line.
“It’s not all rosy for the All Blacks but I know what they’ll do – they’ll get together early and make sure they’re nicely prepared for it.”
Evans also warns that the All Blacks will be far from ‘caught cold’ in the lead up to the Tests, adding: “the way the New Zealand teams are going in Super Rugby means their All Blacks will be tuned-up and battle hardened, which will be an advantage over the Lions. All in all, it’s going to be a hell of a series and one I can’t wait for.”
Here is Evans’ selection, in which England and Ireland players dominate:
9. Conor Murray (Ireland)
10. Johnny Sexton (Ireland)
11. Anthony Watson (England)
12. Owen Farrell (England)
13. Robbie Henshaw (Ireland)
14. Liam Williams (Wales)
15. Stuart Hogg (Scotland)
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena