The 9s and 10s; the playmakers. This is a fascinating unit in The Lions Series, and we have all the world’s best players fighting for test selection here.
All Black 10s
Beauden Barrett is the current World Player of the Year. It’s hard to believe that exactly one year ago he was on the All Black bench and Aaron Cruden was the man in possession of the All Black 10 shirt. Cruden looked to have filled Dan Carter’s boots with his flat running and subtle link play. But Barrett took his chance during the Rugby Championship and has taken number 10 play to a new level since.
The only chink in Barrett’s armour may have been exposed by the Crusaders a few weeks ago. An aggressive defensive line speed suffocated Barrett and dampened his influence for the Hurricanes. Barrett’s willingness to play so flat may be a weakness The Lions could exploit. Test number 10s tend to sit back in the pocket a little more and direct traffic. Barrett has the kicking game to do this. See detailed Beauden Barrett analysis here.
All Black 9s
The All Blacks probably have the best two 9s in the game right now. On his day, Aaron Smith is untouchable for the All Blacks. A sniping Jack Russell style half back that demands excellence from his forward pack. Smith possesses the crispest pass in the game, and it affords his 10 a fraction more time. With Barrett’s speed, the combination is lethal. However, T.J. Perenara has developed into the complete halfback, a very different, more physical 9 than Smith. It’s neck and neck to see who gets selected. That shows how far Perenara has come, he possesses the best breaks and support game of any 9.
As is often the case with New Zealand players, Tawera Kerr-Barlow and Lima Sopoaga would boast a huge number of caps to their names if they were born anywhere else in the world. In a demanding series, either of these men can fit in flawlessly, if needed, because of injury.
The Irish insist that Conor Murray is the best 9 on the planet and his kicking game is certainly world class. Murray has always enjoyed playing against New Zealand. Rhys Webb had a great 6 Nations and his experience orchestrating Gatland’s tactics may help his cause. Greig Laidlaw comes in for the honourable Ben Youngs and will have his work cut out, but the Scottish captain is an astute tactician.
Here are the Lions 9 and 10s
Conor Murray, 9, Ireland
Conor Murray should be fresh after missing a few weeks with an injury. Loves to score tries against the All Blacks. Great box kick and plays like an extra back-row. Big half back.
Rhys Webb, 9, Wales
Rhys Webb is possibly the best open play running half back for the Lions; he likes to make breaks around the fringes. Not unlike Perenara he works well in support and involves the runners.
Greig Laidlaw, 9 and 10, Scotland
Greig Laidlaw always punches above his weight, a master tactician and kicker. Laidlaw is a great leader and works well with his back row. He also covers 10 and goal kicks.
The Lions see a few high profile names battle for a couple of coveted test jerseys. Owen Farrell is being lauded in the British press and approaching Johnny Wilkinson status in praise. Farrell is 12 for England but Gatland insists he will play him at 10. We have to wait and see if Gatland is throwing a curve ball or not. Johnny Sexton may have a few words to say about all of this. Sexton guided Ireland to a win against the All Blacks and was the starting 10 for the victorious Lions in 2013. Dan Biggar may have to play midweek rugby until he can take his chance.
Owen Farrell, 10 and 12, England
Owen Farrell is a world class player and goal kicker, cool under pressure. He has beaten the All Blacks with England. Current European Player of the Year. Plays 10 or 12.
Johnny Sexton, 10, Ireland
Sexton is a physical 10 and not afraid to play flat. This leaves him open to being targeted. A world class tactical kicker and likes loop play with his inside backs.
Dan Biggar, 10, Wales
Tournaments seem to suit Biggar, a big 10 and a great defender. A confidence player and kept Wales in tests on his own during the 6 Nations at times. Good tactical kicker.
From The Shed
For a more in-depth discussion on both the All Black and Lions 9s and 10s check out the video from The Shed and subscribe to The 1014 YouTube channel.
Author: Gareth Dinneen
Gareth is from Limerick, Ireland and has been obsessed with the All Blacks and NZ culture since 1989. He first arrived in NZ in 2001 to tutor in New Media and has since worked with Weta Digital on movies like Avatar, King Kong, The Avengers and most recently Valerian. Gareth grew up listening to his father Len on sports radio. Len is known as ‘The Voice of Rugby’ in Munster, Ireland. The 1014 brings Gareth right back to his sports media roots.