New Zealand vs British & Irish Lions Test II Preview
Last updated: June 30, 2017 by Leon Marshal
|Kick-off:||Saturday, 08:35 (GMT)|
|Coverage:||Sky Sports, Sky Sports HD|
|Fixture type:||Test Fixture|
|Home team odds||1/5|
|Away team odds:||4/1|
Hype, expectation and ultimately, pride, was forced to give way to ruthless efficiency last weekend as the Lions were given a stern lesson in what it means to be clinical at test level. After going down 30-15 in what was a gripping first encounter at Eden Park, Warren Gatland and his wounded Lions now have the steepest of mountains to climb if they are to come back and clinch the series from the back-to-back world champions. A disappointing 31-31 draw against a somewhat depleted Hurricanes side will have done little to help bolster morale inside the Lions camp as the mid-week team let a 14-point second-half lead slip. Nonetheless, it is do or die time now as the tourists know a second defeat on the bounce will put the series out of sight and would make the dreaded prospect of a 3-0 thrashing – with the final test being played at Eden Park where the All Blacks haven’t lost since 1994 – all the more probable.
Warren Gatland and his coaching staff would have no doubt been rueing the missed opportunity inside the first two minutes that would have seen the Lions get off to the perfect start and, possibly, changed the course of the rest of the test. The more sobering reality, however, is that the Lions were outmuscled and outwitted for large periods of the game as they struggled to cope with the route one, abrasive style of the of the New Zealand pack and the blistering speed at which Aaron Smith – who played his best game for some time – fizzed the ball away from the breakdown. There’s no shortage of ability or ambition in the Lions ranks; Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Jonathan Davis, who all combined to cover 80 metres to send Sean O’Brien diving over for what will go down as one of the greatest-ever test tries, are prime examples of how the Lions can cause the All Blacks problems. The tourists must, however, front up to the physical challenge and find a way slow up New Zealand’s supply, otherwise they will find themselves forced to play the game on the back foot and having to play catch up once again.
Perhaps the main concern for the Lions, and particularly Warren Gatland, was not so much the extent to which they were outplayed, but more so, the way in which they were outsmarted. So much has been made of the Lions’ line speed and the strength of the set piece on this tour that Steve Hansen knew exactly what to expect; he adjusted his tactics by funnelling the point of attack down the 10-12 channel and forcing the pressure back on the Lions – the coaching room staff had no response. The inclusion of Johnny Sexton this week pushes Owen Farrell to 12, which suggests that the Lions will look to take advantage of having two world-class tactical kickers and decision-makers on the field and play a territory game. Maro Itoje coming in for George Kruis will increase the Lion’s energy and provide a much-needed physical edge – so too will CJ Stander coming off the bench – and Sam Warbuton will be expected to do what he does best and make a nuisance of himself at the breakdown, while also proving his worth as tour captain.
Waisake Naholo comes in to start on the wing as New Zealand are forced to reshuffle the back three after the vice-captain and 62-cap veteran, Ben Smith, suffered his third concussion of the season. He has been ruled out of the rest of the series.
Ryan Crotty has also been ruled out for the rest of the tour following a hamstring injury last week. 22-year-old Anton Lienert-Brown comes off the bench to start alongside Sonny Bill Williams.
Peter O’Mahony and George Kruis have both been dropped from the match day 23. Courtney Lawes comes onto the bench after impressing in the midweek games and Kruis is replaced by his Saracens team mate, Maro Itoje, in the second row.
Ben Te’o, who many believe has been one of the Lions’ most valuable players on the tour, misses out on a place in the starting 15 to make way for Johnny Sexton, who comes in to play fly-half. This shifts Owen Farrell out to cover the number 12 position, where he has proven his competence playing for England.
|New Zealand:||Moody, Taylor, Franks, Retallick, Whitelock, Kaino, Cane, Read, Smith, Barrett, Ioane, Williams, Lienert-Brown, Naholo, Dagg|
|Subs:||Harris, Crockett, Faumuina, Barrett, Savea, Perenara, Cruden/Sopoaga, Lienert-Brown|
|British & Irish Lions:||Vunipola, George, Furlong, Jones, Itoje, Warbuton (capt), O’Brien, Faletau, Murray, Sexton, Daly, Farrell, Davies, Watson, Williams|
|Subs:||Owens, McGrath, Sinckler, Lawes, Stander, Webb, Te’o, Nowell|
The Final Word
The Lions are exactly where they did not want to be at this stage of the tour: their backs against the wall at 1-0 down and off-field issues taking centre stage in the media and distracting from the task at hand. The tourists need their big players to stand up and prove their worth and there are a few players, most notably Alun Wyn Jones, Johnny Sexton and Sam Warbuton, that need to repay Warren Gatland’s trust and vindicate his selection policies with standout performances. The line-up suggests the Lions are ready to throw the metaphorical kitchen sink at the current world champions but also, perhaps more importantly, take some risks and take look to play in the wide channels. They simply cannot afford to leave anything in reserve as the balance of the entire tour, and possibly the future of it, rests on 80 or so minutes in what is set to be a wet, windy Saturday night in Wellington.
The best odds prices are currently showing at William Hill.