Blues coach Tana Umaga named a powerful side containing eight players capped by the All Blacks to face the Lions at Eden Park on Wednesday. So who will be the most dangerous players for the Lions to watch out for?
Akira Ioane is the older Ioane brother and the one with the most to prove against the Lions. With Jerome Kaino’s continuing absence, and injuries to other back row contenders like Liam Squire, Ioane has a real chance to press for a place in the All Black squad. Ioane, like his brother Rieko, is an exceptional athlete, combining brutal power with the pace of a midfielder. His rather inconsistent game has run hot in recent weeks and if his game is on, expect a few Lions players to have bums on turf as they bounce off him.
2. Augustine Pulu
Pulu is another player who will be eager to impress the All Black selectors. With Tawera Kerr-Barlow’s departure to Europe next season, Pulu is probably ranked third among the New Zealand halfbacks behind Aaron Smith and TJ Perenara. Any injuries to those two and Pulu could add to his two All Black caps. Pulu has an explosive running game and is also a powerful tackler.
3. Rieko Ioane
The younger Ioane brother is a superstar in the making and could feature off the bench for the All Blacks against the Lions. His 2017 season has been a little up and down but he has still managed to score ten tries to sit third on the tryscorers list in the Super 18. Ioane has Julian Savea-like power and is rated as the fastest in the Blues line up. Just like his brother, if his game catches fire early on, look out.
4. Charlie Faumuina
Faumuina is a dynamic, multi-skilled prop who has been capped 46 times for the All Blacks. He has a pretty nifty sidestep for a player tipping the scales at 127kg, and can also serve up Dane Coles-like offloads. Was in outstanding form on the Blues’ recent South African tour and is a certainty for All Blacks selection despite his decision to join Toulouse at the end of this season.
5. George Moala
Sonny Bill Williams may hog the headlines out of the Blues midfielders, but the blockbusting Moala may actually be the more destructive presence against the Lions. Moala had an excellent series for the All Blacks against Wales, before injury and the rise in Anton Lienert-Brown’s form and status saw him drift out of favour with selectors. Even more talent has risen among the midfielders this season, so Moala will need a huge performance to remind Steve Hansen of his power and pace.
Other notable mentions: Steven Luatua, Patrick Tuipulotu, Matt Duffie and Melani Nanai.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena