Lions on form for All Blacks
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