Ki­wis to watch

There’s plenty of rugby be­fore the lions meet the All Blacks. Time to swat up on lo­cal threats…

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HE HAS GUTS AS WELL AS GAS. DI­AG­NOSED WITH JU­VE­NILE RHEUMA­TOID ARTHRI­TIS, HE HAS LEARNT TO MAN­AGE HIS ILL­NESS

SIX GAMES. That’s how many runouts the lions will get be­fore they face New Zealand for the first time, at Eden Park on 24 June, writes Alan Dy­mock.

First up they will face a Provin­cial Bar­bar­ians side but in the next two matches, against the Blues and Cru­saders, the fran­chises’

All Blacks will be avail­able.

How­ever, the lions can­not get caught up in ob­sess­ing over the Test stars – and nei­ther can you. Here’s a quick cheat-sheet on some of the play­ers to keep an eye on, for those who pre­fer a lie-in to watch­ing Su­per Rugby…

BRYN GAT­LAND

yep, he’s the lions boss’s son. Fly-half Bryn guided North Har­bour to pro­mo­tion to the Mitre 10 Cup last year and has come in and out as in­jury cover at the Blues this sea­son. He is fight­ing to get a spot at one of the fran­chises for next sea­son, but the 22-year- old – known for his calm kick­ing un­der pres­sure – should get a shot at the lions be­fore any­one else, hav­ing been se­lected for the Bar­bar­ians game in Whangarei on 3 June.

THE IOANE BROTH­ERS

We have heard about the po­ten­tial of Akira (21) and Rieko Ioane (20) for some time now.

Back-row Akira fi rst came to global at­ten­tion play­ing sevens at the Com­mon­wealth Games. Cen­tre/wing Rieko has also played sevens – both rep­re­sented New Zealand at the Olympics – but has gone one bet­ter than his older bro, get­ting full caps against Italy and France last Novem­ber. He was also the top try-scorer in last year’s Mitre 10 Cup.

Both are Blues and both have played for the Maori All Blacks, be­ing el­i­gi­ble thanks to her­itage from the Ngãpuhi and Te Whã­nauã-Apanui iwi. But we may ac­tu­ally see Rieko play­ing for the big team.

JAMES LOWE

Le­in­ster fans will be study­ing Chiefs wing Lowe keenly, with the 24-year- old Nel­son na­tive head­ing for the province next sea­son. But the Lions will also be wary of his threats, thanks to a fi ne sea­son in Su­per Rugby. By the time the Waikato outfi t had played their tenth fi xture, the fl yer had made 18 clean breaks, beaten 29 de­fend­ers, popped 17 offl oads and scored six tries.

All of that looks even more im­pres­sive when you dis­cover the winger has a daily bat­tle with pain. As a young man he was di­ag­nosed with ju­ve­nile rheuma­toid arthri­tis, but he has learnt to man­age his ill­ness. He has guts as well as gas.

NGANI LAUMAPE

While in the UK we de­bate the mer­its of con­verts leav­ing league for union, over in Welling­ton the fans are in rap­tures about for­mer New Zealand War­riors wing Laumape. He has been in lethal form, scor­ing 11 tries in nine Su­per Rugby games this year.

He has a poacher’s in­stinct but can also bring the thun­der – when the Hur­ri­canes de­feated the High­landers this sea­son, Laumape singed past Marty Banks and then ran through Ben Smith, splat­ter­ing the full-back. He could be an All Black soon enough.

Master of two codes Ngani laumape scores for the Hur­ri­canes

Broth­ers in arms Akira and Rieko Ioane

Chief threat James Lowe has been in great form

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