Ex-Lion turned pundit Jeremy Guscott recently claimed that the Lions will hold a man-for-man advantage over the All Blacks in their forward pack. Is he right? In this article, we size up the selection possibilities in both sides and tackle his bold claim.
As Guscott has not put forward his final Lions XV, we decided to use his ex-teammate Will Greenwood’s Lions forward pack:
– 1. Mako Vunipola,
– 2. Dylan Hartley
– 3. Tadhg Furlong
– 4. Maro Itoje
– 5. Jonny Gray
– 6. CJ Stander
– 7. James Haskell
– 8. Billy Vunipola
And here is an All Blacks forward pack based on experience and form:
– 1. Joe Moody
– 2. Dane Coles
– 3. Owen Franks
– 4. Brodie Retallick
– 5. Sam Whitelock
– 6. Jerome Kaino
– 7. Sam Cane/Ardie Savea
– 8. Kieran Read
So who wins in the man for man face-off?
1. Mako Vunipola vs Joe Moody
Much will depend on Vunipola’s fitness but his all-round skills eclipse Moody’s. Equally matched in strength but Vunipola’s charging runs and offloads can’t be matched by Moody -at least not since his amazing one-handed offload against France in the Rugby Word Cup.
Winner: Mako Vunipola
2. Dylan Hartley vs Dane Coles
Hartley is a powerful ball runner and has been a strong leader of England but is not in the same class as Coles, who was nominated for IRB Player of the Year in 2016. Coles performs all his core duties and adds the pace, passing and running lines of a midfielder.
Winner: Dane Coles
3. Tadhg Furlong vs Owen Franks
This is a very close call as the Franks of the early part of the All Black 2016 season would probably outperform Furlong. However, Franks’ exceptional form tailed off slightly during the year and Furlong was a standout in the two tests against the All Blacks in Chicago and Dublin and continued that form into the 6 Nations.
Winner: Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje vs Brodie Retallick
First of all, can we make this match-up happen? It would be fascinating to see which of these X-Men came up trumps in the test arena.
Itoje has slightly better aerial skills, Retallick better running and passing skills. They are probably equally matched in mauls, break-downs and tackling. Retallick edges ahead for his mobility but this one is a very close call.
Winner: Brodie Retallick
5. Jonny Gray vs Sam Whitelock
Whitelock had an outstanding year in 2016 without receiving the accolades he deserved. He had an astounding workrate, frequently topping tackle counts and had excellent lineout accuracy.
Jonny Gray is big, aggressive and talented, but Whitelock’s 84 tests against Gray’s 33 tips the ledger in the All Blacks’ favour.
Winner: Sam Whitelock
6. CJ Stander vs Jerome Kaino
CJ Stander had an outstanding Autumn international and 6 Nations campaign. A bruising runner and ferocious tackler, he seems a certainty to fill the no. 6 jersey.
Jerome Kaino is an All Black legend and double World Cup winner. He has a champion’s habit of rising to the big occasion, but in this case the younger more ambitious legs are in the Lions camp.
Winner: CJ Stander
7. James Haskell vs Sam Cane or Ardie Savea
A touch of red rose bias here in Greenwood’s selection as most commentators would plump for Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric or Sean O’Brien to take the crucial openside flanker position.
In this case the New Zealanders’ skills, power and stamina come out on top but things become much more even if other selection options are explored.
Winner: Cane or Savea
8. Billy Vunipola vs Kieran Read
Big Billy is a destructive force running off the back of the scrum, breaking tackles and creating real momentum for his side. Kieran Read has a less devastating but more rounded game, with strong line-out takes, intelligent offloading and tireless tackling.
Interestingly, both have returned from long-term injury lay-offs. Both players are also equally influential and this looms as a key matchup in the series.
Winner: Draw (1/2 a point each)
8. Vunipola and Read
As we can see the totals are very tight and do not take into account combinations, injuries and form. However, given that the All Blacks forward pack is shaping up to be the same as 2016, the settled combinations and home advantage point to the sensible money being bet on Black.
– All Blacks 4.5
– Lions 3.5