So, after a lot of ups and downs for the Lions over the past few weeks, we’ve finally got to the main event, the Test matches against the mighty All Blacks!
I won’t go through those ups and downs in too much detail, that was outlined more in my previous report ‘Maori All Blacks v Lions preview’. In this report I will focus more on what state the Lions are in today and how I feel the match will unfold.
Ok, the Lions have only won 1 Lions tour in New Zealand, that was back in 1971. Since then, the Lions have failed to repeat that glory on 4 occasions.
The All Blacks have also not lost in Eden Park in Auckland since 1994! These stats make for hard reading when you begin to examine our chances of toppling the All Blacks on their home soil.
However, these records can be broken if the Lions prepare well and back themselves. Just over 7 months ago, Ireland took on the All Blacks who were trying to create another record of 18 consecutive wins. Ireland were confident enough to stand up to the challenge and prevailed with their first victory over the All Blacks, against all odds! No one gave us a hope of winning that time and the same is happening in the media for the Lions. Although, if the Lions do lose this game, the All Blacks supporters already know why:
The Lions are in reasonably good shape coming into this game. They’ve been building on each performance and we’ve seen stronger partnerships and overall improved cohesion among the squad throughout the past 6 games. This is heartening and I am expecting that the Lions have kept their strongest performance for this coming Saturday. After all, they will most certainly need it!
The selections are interesting. Peter O’Mahony as captain is both a great choice from Gatland and a huge honour for the Cork man. His leadership with Ireland and Munster in the past has never been in doubt and since being called up for Ireland against England at the last minute, he has consistently performed to an incredibly high level. His leadership will be crucial this Saturday. Gatland is clearly trying to create a good balance between the starting 15 and bench, and I think he’s achieved that goal. There will/should be absolutely no reason to fear the stage in the match where replacements start being called off the bench. In some positions, we should actually see our performance and tempo rise after a couple of subs enter the fray of battle. Fresh legs is one thing, but having the fresh legs of players like Itoje and Sexton will have a huge influence on this game when called upon. And if the scrum needs a bit of a lift and an extra heave, Jack McGrath and Ken Owens will provide just the solution in that area.
Although the All Blacks have immense talent throughout their squad, I truly believe that the Lions have the edge in terms of overall experience and form. Yes, the All Blacks hammered Samoa with a 12 try fest last week but in fairness, there was no contest, well apart from the fact that Samoa contended for a large period of the first half!
Click here to read our analysis of both team selections.
Where the game will be won
Lets face it, the All Blacks are hands down the best team in the world, they prove it all the time and rarely have an off game. They also have two back to back World Cup trophies to back up their case. Sure ask anyone from South Africa, Argentina and Australia, they’re well used to being beaten by the All Blacks annually in the 4 Nations competition. As a result, the All Blacks will be feeling very confident, they are so used to winning and have developed a solid winning mindset, it’s almost impossible to break them down.
Confidence will be crucial in this match. If the Lions do not truly believe they can win this game, then it’s going to be a long day at the office. No doubt, the Lions really need to put out a big performance to get a win this weekend with each of the many leaders stepping up to the plate when required.
The All Blacks have some players in there that have not been tried and tested too much prior to this game, especially their captain Kieran Read who is back for his first game after a considerable amount of time on the sidelines due to injury. Hopefully the Lions will try to rattle him early on.
Ultimately, the Lions will need to come out of the blocks firing all cylinders and only full confidence in themselves will bring that out of them. If they can get a score early and keep the scoreboard ticking over, they can hopefully get to half time with a lead. Do that, and it’s game on! We all know that the All Blacks score most of their tries between the 60 and 80 minute mark so this will be the most crucial time for the Lions to show their power and most importantly hold their nerve. This is where the bench power will be evident. We have 8 excellent replacements on the bench, all of which should cause problems for the All Blacks, especially given that our bench is superior to theirs.
The scrum and lineout will be a great weapon for the Lions too, although the All Blacks are pretty handy in these areas also. If we can keep 100% record in this area, it’ll go a long way to keeping us in touch with them. However, the All Blacks only need a whiff of weakness in either set piece to exploit it and they have shown in the past how they can turn even the smallest of weakness into try scoring opportunities.
Lastly, the Lions cannot win any of these three tests by employing a defensive game plan. They need to attack attack attack and put as much pressure on the All Blacks as possible. Taking a breather even for a very short period will prove disastrous as this team can score from anywhere, at anytime. Just look back at the last 30 seconds of the Ireland v All Blacks game from 2013 for evidence of this. So, scoring tries should be the primary objective for the Lions, we can’t win this via 3 pointers here and there from the boot of the outhalf/centre/fullback (whoever might be called up to the tee).
Prediction: If the Lions turn up and have full confidence in themselves and each other, I really think they can cause an upset. They should and I think they will see this test as a final! The All Blacks will do everything in their power to spoil the party but I’m going to stick my neck out and say the Lions will get the win.
All Blacks 27, Lions 31