The Lions suffered a bit of a setback on Tuesday morning as they lost a comfortable lead to only draw with the Hurricanes in Wellington. Admittedly, most of the players who played this game won’t be in action at the weekend, but in terms of morale, this was a poor result.
Nonetheless, there are two Test matches with the All Blacks remaining. Steve Hansen’s men will be looking to wrap up the series while the Lions know that they must win to set up an Auckland decider on July 8.
Here are some potential happenings in the next two Test matches that could determine the final outcome.
1. The Recall Of Julian Savea
His non-selection in the first Test raised some eyebrows. Due to Connor Murray’s superb kicking game, this at the time was a wise move. Savea struggles with the high ball and would have been an easy target. While he didn’t shine out on Tuesday for the Hurricanes, it is hard to keep a player this good on the sidelines.
Youngster Rieko Ioane had a strong game with two tries. A possible reshuffle due to Ben Smith’s concussion may see Savea recalled with Israel Dagg moving back to full-back and Ioane shifting to the right wing.
There is also Waisake Naholo waiting patiently for a call-up. Savea will be wanting to prove a point that he is still the best left winger in New Zealand. The opportunity for Savea to become the first All Black to score 50 Test tries (he is currently on 46) by the end of this series will be a special moment if it arises.
2. A Change Of Tactics
Against the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks, the Lions tactics of kick pressure, fast line speed on defence and strong rolling mauls proved to be successful weapons. The All Blacks nullified the line speed with inside passes to make the advantage line. Kicking the ball to a lethal counter-attacking team is dangerous.
Kicks need to be contestable and a strong chase line needs to be consistently good. In the four losses that the All Blacks have experienced during Steve Hansen’s tenure, they have conceded an average of 33 points. This means the Lions will need to look at scoring three or four tries per Test for each of the remaining games to follow this trend. Seán O’Brien’s try on Saturday showed that they are capable of scoring and playing an open style of rugby.
3. A Series Decider
How good would a decider be for the thousands of fans who have travelled to the other side of the world? A packed Eden Park with the series alive in an electric atmosphere is what most rugby fans want to see.
The All Blacks will want to wrap up the series in Wellington then aim to continue their golden run at Eden Park. The Lions will have to regroup for the second Test, look at a new approach and look to keep the series alive.
4. The Rise Of Future Stars
Rieko Ioane has already shown his future star qualities on the field with his pace and try-scoring ability. His family have become popular with Lions fans for accommodating a fan into their home. Two more Tests of him showcasing his skill will help the All Blacks win the series.
Maro Itoje has achieved a large amount of success in his short career already. If selected to start on Saturday, with a dominant performance against arguably the best locking combination in the world this will boost his potential to become one of the best forwards in the professional era.
Whether these possibilities happen or not, this series is still there for the taking. We all wait with great anticipation.
Carlin Crossan, Pundit Arena