After a pulsating first Test in which the All Blacks out-Warrenballed the Lions 30-15, will we see any changes in tactics employed by coaches Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen for the second Test in Wellington?
Will Gatland drop his captain, Peter O’Mahony? How will the All Blacks approach the game tactically? Here are the five biggest questions which need answers from the head coaches ahead of next Saturday’s second Test.
5. Will Hansen employ his ‘horses for courses’ strategy and stack the All Blacks with Wellington Hurricanes players?
After the gamble of throwing Auckland Blue speedster Rieko Ioane to the Lions paid dividends with a brace of tries, Hansen might be tempted to do the same with the likes of Jordie Barrett, Ngani Laumape, Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Scudder. Out of these Wellington locals, Barrett and Laumape have the best chance as they are already in the squad and there are places vacant in the midfield and at full-back after injuries to Ryan Crotty and Ben Smith.
Hansen may also move TJ Perenara into the starting number nine jersey to reprise the dangerous Hurricane halves combination he shares with Beauden Barrett.
4. Will Warren Gatland keep the faith with his play-makers in the halves?
Rugby fans know the class of Conor Murray and Owen Farrell. Yet most will admit that the two had less influential games than usual in the first Test. Farrell especially, didn’t get his running game going and when he tried, he was folded in two by the rampaging All Black captain Kieran Read.
What will that game have done to Farrell’s confidence? His goal kicking has also not been its usual metronomical self, and the likely swirling gusts of Wellington weather will do not him any favours. Will Gatland start with Sexton?
Or perhaps roll the dice and select the more physical Biggar? If Biggar plays well against the Hurricanes on Tuesday, if he is subbed early it may be a sign that he is in selection contention. Conor Murray will probably retain his place for the second Test but Gatland may be tempted to give Rhys Webb more game time than the twelve minutes he got at Eden Park.
3. Will Hansen try to beat the Lions at their own game again?
Much has been made of the fact that Hansen’s team used the surprise tactic of finding runners close to the rucks, and using many inside passes to negate the Lions’ line speed in the defensive line. Will Hansen employ the same tactics in Wellington or will he ask Beauden Barrett to go out and express himself on his home ground?
Expect a more open game by the All Blacks at the very least, and if they have carved out a handy margin at half-time, the Lion’s backs may be in for a torrid time.
2. Will Gatland make changes to the Lions pack?
The pack was supposed to be the Lion’s source of strength but they were overpowered in Auckland. The All Blacks forced them to make countless energy-sapping tackles in the first half and then reaped the rewards as the Lions tired in the second.
What can Gatland do? The Lions firstly need to win ball and hold on to it. Maro Itoje’s ability to pilfer ball in lineouts and mauls will likely see him in a starting jersey. But in which position? Is Itoje mobile enough to be in the back row?
Will Gatland drop his captain, Peter O’Mahony? While O’Mahoney was industrious in the tackle and lineout, Gatland needs a back row with more muscle to cross the gain-line as Kieran Read did on Saturday. For this reason, the high-powered locomotive of CJ Stander and perhaps Sam Warburton may move into the starting side.
1. Will Beauden Barrett play at fullback to cover the injury to Ben Smith?
This decision may come down to Barrett vs Barrett. After Rieko Ioane’s success, Steve Hansen will be eager to test the mettle of the other 20-year-old prodigy in his squad: Jordie Barrett.
However, if Hansen’s intention is the lock down the series, Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett may form the same fly-half/full-back combination as they did for the majority of the match in Auckland.
The third and most exciting option is to move Israel Dagg back from the wing to his favoured full-back spot and keep Barrett at fly-half. This would leave a wing position open for for Waisake Naholo or the return of Julian Savea.
Dagg’s red hot form and crucial hand in most of the All Blacks attacking plays would probably be putting pressure on Ben Smith’s position even without his injury. If Dagg has a blinder, Hansen may have another happy selection dilemma on his hands.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena