With just a matter of days to go until the most anticipated Lions Test matches in history, the series is still impossible to predict.
Many believe the Lions’ resolute defence and powerful forwards will prove more dominant than the All Blacks. On the other hand, many think the Lions simply cannot cope with the flair and all round skill set possessed by each and every All Black.
A lot has been written about the Lions’ failures in chance creation as well as their ability to gain five points at any given opportunity. These are areas of strength for the All Blacks.
Here we look at the five All Blacks Lions fans should be most concerned about.
5. Brodie Retallick
The Chiefs’ star man will be looking to cause trouble and create a whole manner of problems for the Lions to deal with. The 2014 World Rugby Player of the Year has been in majestic form for the Chiefs this season. Never in the wonderful world of rugby has a lock been so talented with ball in hand.
His range of passing, ball carrying and offloading ability will be giving George Kruis sleepless nights before this dramatic first Test. To add to this, Retallick reigns supreme at the lineout as well as contributing to attacking and defending mauls, not to mention his powerful scrummaging.
4. Kieran Read
The blow of losing Read at the end of April can’t be emphasised enough. The Kiwi captain is the glue that holds this side together. His lineout jumping is emphatic and he’s now an integral part of what is commonly known as an imperious set piece.
Read, who’s likely to make his return from injury against the Lions, loves to hog the outside channels and should he find a quarter of the space most players need, you can guarantee a try will follow. His deft hands and powerful running are key assets in his game and a major contributor to his World Rugby Player of the Year award.
3. Beauden Barrett
Rugby fans over the last year have been pondering whether there is anything this man can’t do? Meanwhile, Owen Farrell has been scratching his head attempting to find a way to stop the hottest property in world rugby.
Barrett’s strength is his ability to create chances in a many different ways. There’s no fly-half more accurate with his cross kicks than Barrett, who has added this to the Hurricanes’ game. He may have the greatest running game of any fly-half the world has ever seen. Lastly, his ability to pass at just the right time creates an array of chances for his fortunate teammates. Therefore, there’s no way to defend against such a diverse playmaker.
2. Sonny Bill Williams
If there was ever a man for a big occasion it’s this rugby league convert. After a low-key Super Rugby season, he was superb against the Lions and Samoa earning himself a try in both games. However, it’s his infectious ability to offload that ball and keep a move flowing which makes him really stand out.
It’s very rare that he takes the ball to the floor, instead he keeps the move alive and, as a direct consequence, a try is usually scored. If this is added to his smashing of the gain line and big hitting in defence, be sure that Ben Te’o will have his work cut out at Eden Park.
1. Ben Smith
After shaking off his injury and being the All Blacks captain, Ben Smith is at the pinnacle of his career and on top of the world. His skill in turning defence into attack with his counter-attacking skills are beautiful to watch. Most players would clear the ball but yet he dares to take players on, which often works in his favour.
His speed, intelligence and handling means he’s always steps ahead of every other player on the pitch. The Lions will have to keep Smith quiet or else they’ll be faced with another playmaker to worry about in the opposing backline.
If these five dangermen have any sight of an opportunity or a space in the Lions defence they will convert these errors into try after try. Meanwhile, should the Lions silence these key contributors, they will be on track for a series victory.
Patrick Perry, Pundit Arena
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