Firstly, it needs to be noted that I am obviously biased on this topic. I’ve always been an All Blacks fan and so it goes without saying that I always back them to win regardless of whom they’re playing.
One hundred percent certainty is a luxury not many sports fans have when it comes to backing their team, but as an All Blacks fan, it’s a luxury that exists and doesn’t sound ridiculous.
A lot has been said recently about the Lions being in red hot form after beating the Crusaders, Chiefs and New Zealand Maori. Their defence has been praised for stifling the Crusaders attack that has been devastating against all opponents in Super Rugby this season but I’ve noted there has been a lot less said about the Blues and Highlanders matches in recent days.
I know that ultimately defence decides games. The Lions have an incredible defence and line speed which potentially will be able to stop the All Blacks from running rampant, but that’s all it will do – stop them from running riot. It won’t stop them from winning.
The All Blacks have the best attack on the planet, easily. The Lions attack seems to barely exist at this stage. Yes, they have managed the odd try that would be worthy of a Super Rugby match but kicking penalties and having a strong set piece won’t be enough to rattle the All Blacks.
The other thing I’ve noticed lately which has left me a little confused is that nobody seems to be talking about the All Blacks’ defence, which is arguably better than that of the Lions, maybe not by much but it’s still better.
The only thing the Lions have in their favour is the breakdown. Taking the tackle is something the All Blacks seem to be avoiding like they’re allergic to it as of late. Almost everything is off-loaded, even if it doesn’t look pretty and even if it doesn’t lead to a line break.
This messy, creative, anything goes type of play is what is going to guarantee the All Blacks success at Eden Park. Even when the Lions do manage to effectively make a tackle, the rucks are so fast that I just can’t see them being able to cope. All that the All Blacks need is a hint of a chance to spot a gap and they’ll punish you.
The Lions may be capable of stopping 95% of the carries they face, hell maybe even 99% but it’s what they don’t stop which will ensure their demise.
Putting up high balls and applying a territory focused strategy won’t work and neither will slotting the odd penalty. If the Lions want to manage even a single test victory on this tour against the All Blacks they’re going to have to find their attacking flair. Actually, they’re going to have to do more than find it, they’re going to have to apply it relentlessly until something clicks and they seem dangerous from anywhere on the field and not just when they’ve reached the twenty-two.
It’s more or less a certainty that the All Blacks will win the tour. Do I think the Lions could potentially snare an upset and snatch a single victory? Maybe, but it won’t be this weekend at Eden Park.
Eden Park is the stronghold of New Zealand rugby, a field where the All Blacks are normally at their absolute best. No matter how hopeful everyone seems to be at the moment I just can’t see this game going any other way than a conclusive win for the All Blacks.
To beat the World Cup champions, you have to catch them off guard and I’m sure that leading into this test they are more than ready, this is a game being played at a ground that almost makes the All Blacks seem invincible.