Crusaders vs British & Irish Lions Preview
Last updated: June 8, 2017 by Leon Marshal
|Kick-off:||Saturday, 08:35 (GMT)|
|Venue:||AMI Stadium, Christchurch|
|Coverage:||Sky Sports, Sky Sports HD|
|Fixture type:||Warm up fixture|
|Home team odds||4/5|
|Away team odds:||11/10|
Warren Gatland’s Lions did well to get their tour off to a winning start in difficult conditions just under a week ago against a slightly novice, yet fiercely competitive NZ Barbarians side. All the talk of hindered preparation and jet lag proved to be far more serious than what many brushed off as pre-scripted excuses coming from the Lions camp. Yet, despite the glaring lack of energy and sharpness on the field, the Lions came away with that all-important win. Earlier this week, with jet lag no longer a passable defence, the Lions were ill-disciplined and one-dimensional in attack and they eventually crumbled as the pace and skill set of their Super Rugby opponents ultimately proved too much. Next up is the Crusaders, the only undefeated side at this stage in the Super Rugby competition, who will pose a wholly different, yet equally potent threat to Gatland’s side.
The most important thing for the Lions in this early stage of the tour is that they keep showing game-by-game improvement – although the newspaper headlines in New Zealand will say different. Bringing the home nations together under one jersey and having every player singing off the same hymn sheet is no easy feat; Gatland knows that building cohesion, as well as a clear and collective understanding of the way the Lions want to play is worth a lot more than the results at this stage. The degree of assurance the Lions showed at the set piece – bar the woeful, mistimed lineout that could have seen them snatch victory at the death – will give them reason to be optimistic. So too will the shifts put in by Courtney Lawes, CJ Stander and Maro Itoje and the territory and possession the team enjoyed in the first half. More concerning for Gatland will be the overall lack of imagination in attack and the inability of his side to be clinical when the opportunities presented themselves. With the remaining four Super Rugby teams and the NZ Maori still to come, these opportunities will become fewer and farther in between.
With the pressure steadily rising in the Lions camp and the press not short of scathing criticisms, it goes without saying this is a must win game for the touring side. They’ve already stumbled at the first Super Rugby hurdle – and many said that the Blues would be the weakest club side the Lions would face on the tour – however, the way in which the men from Christchurch operate may just prove to be easier for Gatland’s side to handle. The Crusaders have remained undefeated this season by adopting a far more structured approach than we’ve perhaps been used to seeing in the Southern hemisphere. Their success up to now has been in their ability to put in the hard yards by first breaching the advantage line before they ship the ball and look for mismatches in the wide channels, which is in stark contrast to how the Blues hurt Gatland’s side earlier in the week. The Lions may get more change out of this kind of structured approach if they can make their dominance up front count and continue to exert pressure at the set piece.
The Crusaders have also opted for a strong side for tomorrow’s fixture, with All Blacks Israel Dagg, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock (capt) and Wyatt Crockett all featuring.
Despite the tour still being in its early stages, the pressure is slowly – but surely – building on Gatland’s side to record a convincing victory tomorrow. “At some point you have got to start winning or people are going to be saying, this isn’t working. That is the thing you have got to keep an eye on,” remarked All Blacks coach, Steve Hansen earlier this week.
Half-backs Conor Murray and Owen Farrell will start together for the first time on the tour. It is generally accepted that, if fit, they will both be first choice half-backs for the full tests; tomorrow’s fixture against a strong Crusaders side serves as the perfect trial.
Alun Wyn Jones will captain the Lions tomorrow in what is his third consecutive tour. Sean O’Brien, Mako Vunipola, Toby Faletau and George Kruis line up alongside him in the pack with Jonathan Davies, Stuart Hogg and George North all combining in the back line in what is starting to look very much like Gatland’s starting test side.
|Crusaders:||Moody, Taylor, Franks, Romano, Whitelock, Bedwell-Curtis, Todd, Taufua, Hall, Mo’unga, Bridge, Havili, Goodhue, Tamanivalu, Dagg|
|Subs:||Funnell, Crockett, Alaalatoa, Strange, Brown, Drummond, Hunt, Bateman|
|British & Irish Lions:||Vunipola, George, Furlong, Jones, Kruis, O’Mahony, O’Brien, Faletau, Murray, Farrell, Te’o, Williams, Davies, North, Hogg|
|Subs:||Owens, McGrath, Cole, Itoje, Stander, Webb, Sexton, Watson|
|Injured:||Warbuton, Biggar, Payne,|
Conclusion & Betting Tips
If the Lions were playing any other club side from outside the New Zealand Conference – or in the world for the matter – you’d bet your house that the quality they possess, with so many test-proven international players across the park, would be too much to withstand. But given the X-factor the Crusaders have in their locker with the likes of Israel Dagg, Ryan Goodhue, Sam Whitelock, Jordan Taufua, and a collective, innate comfort with ball in hand that has been nurtured since childhood, this one is far from an easy call. It will be close, but we’re backing the Lions to come away with a narrow victory of no more than seven points. For top odds prices, head over to Ladbrokes.