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Packs Of Glory: Is The Lions Pack Better Than The All Blacks?

Australia v England

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.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JUNE 25: Mako Vunipola of England makes a break during the International Test match between the Australian Wallabies and England at Allianz Stadium on June 25, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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.

Ireland v New Zealand - International Match
CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 05: Robbie Henshaw of Ireland is snagged by Dane Coles of New Zealand during the international match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field on November 5, 2016 in Chicago, United States. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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.

DUBLIN, IRELAND - NOVEMBER 19: Tadhg Furlong of Ireland is tackled during the international rugby match between Ireland and the New Zealand All Blacks at Aviva Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
DUBLIN, IRELAND – NOVEMBER 19: Tadhg Furlong of Ireland is tackled during the international rugby match between Ireland and the New Zealand All Blacks at Aviva Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 18: Brodie Retallick of the All Blacks runs with the ball during The Rugby Championship match between the Australian Wallabies and the New Zealand All Blacks at Suncorp Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

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.

The Rugby Championship - New Zealand v Australia
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – AUGUST 23: Samuel Whitelock of the All Blacks controls a maul during The Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on August 23, 2014 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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.

CHICAGO, IL – NOVEMBER 05: Owen Franks of the New Zealand All Blacks is tackled by CJ Stander of Ireland during the international match between Ireland and New Zealand at Soldier Field on November 5, 2016 in Chicago, United States. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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.

CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND – SEPTEMBER 17: Ardie Savea of the All Blacks dives over to score a try during the Rugby Championship match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the South Africa Springboks at AMI Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

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.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27: Billy Vunipola of England is tackled by Jamie Heaslip of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on February 27, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) Lions
LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 27: Billy Vunipola of England is tackled by Jamie Heaslip of Ireland during the RBS Six Nations match between England and Ireland at Twickenham Stadium on February 27, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Winner: Draw (1/2 a point each)
_____

1. Vunipola
2. Coles
3. Furlong

4. Retallick
5. Whitelock

6. Stander
7. Cane/Savea
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.

Final Total:
– All Blacks 4.5
– Lions 3.5

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Author: The PA Team

This article was written by a member of The PA Team. If you would like to join the team, drop us an email at write@punditarena.com.