After the Crusaders got suffocated by the Lions whose strategic play was a mix of roar and snore, could the same thing happen to the All Blacks? We select a test side of 23 players who will be tasked with cracking the Lions defensive code in the Tes series.
Here is our All Blacks Test squad – and the threat each player poses to Warren Gatland’s side.
15 Ben Smith
Ben Smith is the glue to the All Black backline. Positions himself to provide intelligent support and is almost always accurate.
14 Waisake Naholo
If the Lions continue their rush defense, expect Waisake Naholo to be selected and the All Blacks to send quick cut out passes to give him one on one time with his opponent. Naholo is a brute of a player who almost always busts the line, and also has a useful short kicking game.
13 Ryan Crotty
His playmaking ability was sorely missed by the Crusaders backline who were battered by the Lion’s rush defense. Runs intelligent lines and rock solid defense.
12 Sonny Bill Williams
His combination with Beauden Barrett looms as the most crucial to the All Blacks. The express pace of Barrett running off SBW’s shoulder waiting for the inevitable offload could break open the test.
11 Rieko Ioane
Hansen’s loyalty to his test regulars will probably see Julian ‘The Bus’ Savea selected on the left wing. But this writer would argue that Ioane’s form is too irresistible to ignore any longer and particularly after his outstanding, phobia-creating (in Jack Nowell’s case) performance against the Lions for the Blues.
10 Beauden Barrett
Barrett has had a few quiet weeks in Super Rugby but has a habit of catching fire on the big occasion. As long as he expresses himself, the All Blacks will feed off his confidence.
9 Aaron Smith
The All Blacks will want the fastest delivery in their first phase play and therefore Aaron Smith should get the nod ahead of TJ Perenara.
8 Kieran Read
Read will come into the first test cold or perhaps as Steve Hansen would reclassify it ‘fresh’ and the hunger of the pack to turn over quick ball and launch attacks will be key to the first test. If the Lions are allowed to play their ‘up the jumper’ or ‘up and under tactics,’ the All Blacks could be just as prone to error and frustration as the Crusaders.
7 Sam Cane
Cane has a big job to do against the bruising Lions loosies, but he, Read and Kaino have enough experience and smarts to do the job.
6 Jerome Kaino
Another coming back from injury, a layoff may have been a blessing for the hardworking Kaino. Loves a physical contest and will be key to challenging the Lions’ mauling dominance so far in the tour.
5 Sam Whitelock
Whitelock will want revenge after the Lions snapped his beloved Crusaders 14-match winning streak. Expect a huge performance.
4 Brodie Retallick
Big Brodie is likely to be matched against Maro Itoje in what will be an Avengers-like match-up.
3 Owen Franks
Franks, Taylor and Moody will want to address the scrum deficiencies in the Crusaders game which led to a series of important penalties. Steve Hansen’s steely supervision should iron out the kinks.
2 Codie Taylor
Taylor has big shoes to fill with the injured Dane Coles watching on from the sideline. A real pressure test for the Crusaders hooker.
1 Joe Moody
Moody will want to hear less of the referee’s whistle in his direction than he did in the Crusaders game.
The All Black bench has almost always proved a point of difference and this bench is loaded with pacy, skilled players who thrive on more open play. Halfback TJ Perenara and flanker Ardie Savea stand out as the most potent and influential of these pine warmers.
Ardie Savea, Israel Dagg, either Lima Sopoaga or Aaron Cruden, TJ Perenara, Charlie Faumuina, Wyatt Crockett, Scott Barrett, Nathan Harris are all capable of causing the Lions trouble.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Punit Arena