All Blacks boss Steve Hansen is the luckiest coach in world rugby, with an embarrassment of riches wherever he looks. However, he has a choice to make when it comes to the Lions tour as to whether he uses the tried and tested backline that we all know works well, or whether he justifies his selections based on club form.
Here we take a look at the backline Hansen should pick based on Super Rugby form alone.
9. TJ Perenara
Perenara has been outstanding in the last two seasons, and has proved he can be exciting and consistent, a rare blend. His three tries from scrum half this season will not have gone unnoticed by Gatland, and his partnership with Beauden Barrett could be crucial.
Probably up against Conor Murray, he will need to continue this form into the series to beat the Munster man and get this backline on the front foot.
10. Beauden Barrett
He is the best player in the world. No questions asked. Barrett’s mixture of attacking threat with 569 metres made and three tries scored combined with his eleven assists in Super Rugby so far show his class, but his overall game play is also outstanding.
While his kicking is not as good as his rivals, he makes up for it elsewhere. Defensively he is solid but not outstanding, but Barrett’s attacking game alone is enough for him to be the first name on the team sheet.
11. Julian Savea
If something is as good as this, there is no need to replace it. The best winger in the world in attack, and with five tries in seven games this season he’s having a good run in Super Rugby so far.
He will cause problems for whichever Lions winger he faces, whether it is his pace or his physicality. His 45 tries in 52 tests for the All Blacks speaks for itself.
12. Ngani Laumape
Perhaps not the most orthodox selection, but Laumape’s form for the Hurricanes has been sensational so far this season, having scored nine tries in eight games and carried for 553 metres so far. His opposition for this jersey, Anton Lienert-Brown has been less impactful so far, with less clean breaks, metres made, defenders beaten and tries scored.
In defence Laumape also has a better tackle completion rate (88.9 per cent). He may not have international experience, but Laumape could bring another element to this backline.
13. Rieko Ioane
Having made his international debut last year aged 19 after tearing up the sevens circuit, Ioane has become one of the most feared centres in the league. His pace and vision are unbelievable, and he has a knack for intercepting and running the length of the pitch.
His defence is solid with an 83 per cent tackle completion rate this season, and that’s with a side that are often on the back foot. His attacking game also speaks for itself. This writer would love to see the young talented centre start the Test series.
14. James Lowe
The soon-to-be Leinsterman has been on the cusp of All Blacks selection for a while, having toured with the Māori’s last year, scoring five tries in three games.
He has been outstanding so far this season for the Chiefs, and the All Blacks would like to take him away from Ireland if he was looking to qualify under the residency rules. Nevertheless, his form justifies his selection.
15. Damian McKenzie
The Chiefs fullback has once again been in fine form this season, and will be hoping to add to his two senior caps for the All Blacks. He also provides a kicking option to this backline to potentially back up the slightly sporadic Barrett.
His overall running game will be why he warrants selection, having made 766 metres in just eight games this season. He has to compete with the likes of Israel Dagg and Ben Smith for this place, but on form he certainly takes it.
Replacements (assuming the All Blacks have three backs on the bench)
21. Tawera Kerr-Barlow (scrum half)
22. Aaron Cruden (fly-half)
23. Jordie Barrett (utility back)
Oscar Reilly, Pundit Arena
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