With the first test between the All Blacks and Lions just hours away, every rugby fan on the planet is getting ready for a game that we have been waiting years for. The World Cup champions put their remarkable Eden Park record on the line against the best of Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.
Can Warren Gatland’s touring party shock the world, and do what no test side has done since 1994? We take a look at five key battles that could determine the outcome.
Jamie George vs Codie Taylor
The two hookers will have a major role to play in this series. For the past year, this was being billed as Dane Coles vs Dylan Hartley or Rory Best, yet here we are. Strangely, this is George’s first ever career test start, and what an occasion it is. Taylor is slightly more experienced and is hugely respected, but the bottom line is that he is not Dane Coles.
The line-out will be a key battle, and this duo will need to find their targets.
Owen Farrell vs Beauden Barrett
The best in the business, Beauden Barrett, aims to push on after an award-winning 2016 season. Can he continue to drive the All Blacks on? Up against him is Owen Farrell, the 25-year-old who has played the majority of his test rugby in recent times at 12, but has shown time and time again for Saracens that he is a truly world-class out-half.
If Barrett puts in the performance he is capable of, the Lions will be in trouble. There is huge pressure on Farrell to pull the strings.
Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock vs Alun Wyn Jones and George Kruis
AKA the line-out battle…If Kruis and Jones can disrupt the All Blacks set-piece, they will give their side a fighting chance. Many are expecting the visitors to play a kicking game, so the line-out will be key.
If Kruis and Jones can disrupt the All Blacks set-piece, they will give their side a fighting chance. Many are expecting the visitors to play a kicking game, so the line-out will be key.
However, Retallick and Whitelock aren’t revered as the best lock pairing in world rugby for no reason.
This is going to be an interesting one…
Joe Moody and Owen Franks vs Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong
This is the one area where it is safe to say that the Lions have an advantage. Having impressed in the warm-up games, Vunipola and Furlong will be charged with getting on top at scrum-time early on.
Should the Lions place a solid foundation at this set-piece, then there is an opportunity to put the All Blacks on the back foot as the game progresses.
If Moody and Franks hold their own here, this would be a result for Steve Hansen.
Sonny Bill Williams vs Ben Te’o
SBW will play a crucial role in the midfield, and we know exactly what he will bring to the table; impact, footballing ability and that special spark.
Te’o is certainly a bolter as far as the Lions are concerned, but is extremely functional in the mind of Gatland. He will bring a defensive solidity to the backline, and the Lions need to ask questions of this All Blacks midfield going forward.
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