Ki­wis look back for in­spi­ra­tion

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

AUCK­LAND: In pre­par­ing his team for to­mor­row’s seis­mic first Test against the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has made a point of look­ing to the past for in­spi­ra­tion.

The his­tory of past Lions tours; the re­minder that only one All Blacks side, in 1971, have lost a se­ries to the com­bined team. The fact that they are un­beaten at Eden Park since 1994.

And the recog­ni­tion that for this group of play­ers, the three­Test se­ries will be their last chance to face the Lions.

“The Lions come ev­ery 12 years and we’re ex­cited about that,” Hansen said.

“It’s a once-in-a-ca­reer op­por­tu­nity for most peo­ple and look at the guys in the first game (Pro­vin­cial Bar­bar­ians), they loved it and they are now keen to go to a higher level.

“The Su­per Rugby sides, they stood up and were counted and it in­spired those young kids.

“You can feel the en­thu­si­asm and real hunger in the ho­tel with the play­ers. They’re re­ally up for it.

“That’s what this Lions tour does for our rugby. We re­spect it.”

Re­spect for the cur­rent Lions team has been slow to come in rugby-mad New Zealand af­ter the vis­i­tors sput­tered through the first week of their tour.

Since then, bar­ring a 23-22 loss to the High­landers, they have built mo­men­tum on for­ward-dom­i­nated per­for­mances that starved the op­po­si­tion of pos­ses­sion and shut down their op­por­tu­ni­ties with a quick, smoth­er­ing de­fence.

The in­side back com­bi­na­tion of Conor Murray and Owen Farell have also been su­perb with their tac­ti­cal kick­ing, while the hardrun­ning mid­field of Jonathan Davies and Ben Te’o have proved the best at giv­ing their side front-foot ball.

The big test against the All Blacks is whether they will pro­vide that space to an at­tack­ing back three of Liam Wil­liams, An­thony Wat­son and El­liot Daly, with coach War­ren Gat­land choos­ing the trio in the knowl­edge the Lions will need to score tries to beat the world cham­pi­ons.

Gat­land said there was no point play­ing it safe.

“The mes­sage to the play­ers be­fore we came out to New Zealand was that to play the All Blacks you have to be bold and take risks,” he added.

“Yes, we are play­ing to a struc­ture as ev­ery team does, but we have been giv­ing the con­fi­dence to the play­ers to bring in an of­fload­ing game when its ap­pro­pri­ate.

“We know we have got to be coura­geous com­ing here, we’ve got to be bold and play some pos­i­tive rugby.”

Gat­land’s worry is that if they get too pos­i­tive and make er­rors, the All Blacks will ex­ploit them ruth­lessly, as ev­i­denced by their 78-0 thrash­ing of Samoa last week.

All Blacks cap­tain Kieran Read has re­turned to the start­ing team af­ter al­most eight weeks out with a bro­ken thumb, while winger Rieko Ioane was the only sur­prise se­lec­tion for the world cham­pi­ons, re­plac­ing Ju­lian Savea on the left wing.

Ryan Crotty has re­cov­ered from a rib in­jury to al­low Hansen to pair him with Sonny Bill Wil­liams in the mid­field, with An­ton Lienert-Brown com­ing off the bench to give the All Blacks “some­thing dif­fer­ent,” Hansen said. – Reuters

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