The Lions have finally begun to roar, as is evident by their dominant display last Saturday against the Maori All Blacks.
However, the step up to the test arena is one that both the All Blacks and Lions are no doubt desperately preparing for. Saturday ends 12 years of waiting. The culmination of dreams, fears and hope. For both teams to give themselves the best chance at success, some key aspects of their game will have to be spot on.
British and Irish Lions
Strong kicking game
It would be both shocking and detrimental to the success of the Lions if Conor Murray, arguably the world’s best scrum-half, was not to be selected. Despite some weak performances from the Lions as a collective, Murray has consistently proved himself to be an asset to this side. The best part of his game is easily his kicking ability. His box kicks are a combination of deep and high, which have proved menacing to opposing wingers and fullbacks.
The All Blacks will mostly likely select Julian Savea on the wing, which in the eyes of some, may prove controversial. However, despite his attacking ability, this may light up Warren Gatland’s eyes. Savea proved himself to be inconsistent under the high ball last week against Samoa. At times, not even getting a hand to the ball despite being the designated chaser. If Murray and either Sexton and/or Farrell (pending selection) can target Savea through a strong kicking game, then the Lions may be able to gain the advantage, at least for a few phases. However, kicking it to Israel Dagg and Ben Smith (pending selection) would create big problems for a scrambling Lions defence.
Near strength, All Blacks and Lions sides both faced up against reasonably strong opposition last weekend. The physicality of the opposition was evident in both games but they lacked in other areas. The All Blacks showed what they could do when they are given time, as seen via the 78-0 scoreboard over Samoa. A day later, the Lions faced the Maori All Blacks; a team which had outstanding players within the ranks, but were given no chance going forward. Neighbouring on the offside line and then rushing up has proved a successful tactic for the Lions in weeks past, so don’t expect that to change. If they want to win on Saturday, then this is a necessity.
Watch their discipline
As is evident via their world ranking, the All Blacks are a powerful side. They have proved in years gone by, that they can and will attack from anywhere. If the Lions aren’t careful, the All Blacks will gain too much possession, and then run away with the game. They are unlikely to kick at goal, or at least often, unlike the Lions. Simply, more so against the All Blacks compared to other international sides, the Lions will pay for any mistakes.
Looking for the offload. This is almost a certain inclusion in the game-plan of Steven Hansen’s men. The tactic worked wonders for the All Blacks last Friday against Samoa, so there is no reason for them to do otherwise. The All Blacks showed in the 2015 Rugby World Cup against France that they can all offload. Everyone from 1 to 23 has gained the ability, and they do so with a significant amount of confidence. Again, this will certainly feature on Saturday. The Lions will have to do something special to contain this.
The Lions have shown throughout the duration of the tour, that they will border the offside line, to quickly get in the faces of their opposition. It would be confusing, to say the least, if the Lions were to do anything different on Saturday. However, the All Blacks are a much better-drilled outfit and experienced side compared to the teams the Lions have faced so far. Expect Beauden, Sonny Bill, or anyone else to put the ball on the toe, ready for a chase. Sonny Bill Williams showed glimpses of it last Friday against Samoa, putting little grubber kicks through on multiple occasions. These kicks won’t be large; they will only be small grubber or chip kicks. With the athleticism of the All Blacks, the Lions will struggle to turn and then retrieve the ball. This could be capitalised upon if the conditions are wet. But they have to be pin point accurate.
Up the ante
Maybe I’m just a paranoid All Blacks fan, but the New Zealanders need to take it up a notch for Saturday. Last Saturday, the Lions performed in a manner that finally announced they are here to play. The All Blacks met a similar challenge to the Lions by way of Samoa, however, were they going 100%? Samoa are much better than they looked last week, but the All Blacks pounced on any errors by simply having fun. More structured rugby, including set piece, needs to be seen on Saturday.
Author: Finn Morton
To say I’m obsessed with sport is an understatement. It was due to this passion that I realised a career in sports journalism was the way to go. As a young lad, I’m looking to spread my passion for sport whilst gaining some valuable experience.