Lions on form for All Blacks

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

WELLING­TON: When the Bri­tish Lions take on the New Zealand All Blacks in a three­test se­ries from this Satur­day, the best of Eng­land, Scot­land, Ire­land and Wales will be go­ing toe-to-toe with a coun­try where rugby union is ev­ery­thing.

New Zealand’s rugby team has been the most feared in the world for years and af­ter an un­lucky run at the Rugby World Cup, they have fi­nally started to win on the world’s big­gest stage when it counts. The team won the last two tour­na­ments in 2011 and 2015, to add to their vic­tory in the in­au­gu­ral World Cup back in 1987.

Al­ways a ter­ri­fy­ing sight when in full swing, the All Blacks’ re­cent form is omi­nous too: the team handed out a 78-0 drub­bing to Samoa on Fri­day, scor­ing 12 tries in the process.

Go­ing into the se­ries, the All Blacks are stacked with tal­ent in all ar­eas. Fly-half Beau­den Bar­rett, who has just played his 50th test, and full-back Ben Smith de­serve spe­cial men­tion: ex­pect them to carve up the Lions if they are given time and space to move in Auck­land.

The chances of that hap­pen­ing though seem less likely, as the guests progress through their six-week tour of the coun­try. Af­ter a shaky start, the Lions have man­aged four wins and two losses against Su­per Rugby sides and other rep­re­sen­ta­tive teams.

“In big games you don’t get it all your own way, you don’t win every minute,” All Blacks as­sis­tant coach Ian Foster said on the team home­page. “Some­times the op­po­si­tion will have a lit­tle bit of a surge and it’s just rid­ing through that and reim­pos­ing your­self.

“This is go­ing to be a big game, tough teams who want this a lot and we’ve just got to make sure that we keep trust­ing what we do.”

In their fi­nal tune-up be­fore the Tests, the Lions beat a de­pleted Chiefs side in Hamil­ton 34-6, run­ning and pass­ing the ball with skill, af­ter dom­i­nat­ing the set-pieces. Jack Now­ell scored twice, while Jared Payne also fin­ished off an­other long at­tack­ing move.

For coach Warren Gatland, the Bri­tish team is peak­ing at just the right time of the tour.

“We’re in pretty good shape,” Gatland told Sky af­ter the game against the Chiefs. “We’re up against it, but we’re get­ting bet­ter each week.

“We al­ways said we’d get bet­ter the longer the tour went on.”

With a huge squad at his dis­posal, Gatland, a New Zealan­der him­self, will prob­a­bly pick a quite dif­fer­ent line-up for the Lions on Satur­day.

Ex­pect English­man Owen Far­rell to play a cru­cial role, as both kicker and play­maker, if the Lions are to get a sur­prise vic­tory against the world champs. – dpa

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