A run through of the British & Irish Lions team to take on the Crusaders in Christchurch
There’s no rest for the British & Irish Lions. Attention has quickly switched from that 22-16 defeat by the Blues in their second game of the tour to Saturday’s match against the Crusaders.
The Canterbury-based franchise are unbeaten so far this season and sit atop the Super Rugby table with 14 wins out of 14. Even when they don’t look like winning, they do – just ask the Highlanders who were pipped by a last-second drop-goal last weekend. It is going to be an incredibly tough test for the Lions.
Warren Gatland has stuck with his plan to give those 11 players who have not yet started a match on tour the opportunity to play from the kick-off – and it means arguably the strongest team of the tour so far will be running out on Saturday.
There is a promising half-back combination comprising of the in-form Owen Farrell and Conor Murray, who has long been touted as the Test starter at No 9 but needs to prove he is fully fit after a lengthy injury lay-off towards the end of the season.
The front row could also have Lions fans on the edge of their seats – and it’s not often you say that about props! Mako Vunipola and Tadhg Furlong are known for their deft hands while Jamie George is one of the mobile breed of hookers who can spot a gap. After all, he did start out in rugby as a fly-half.
Alun Wyn Jones, who captained the Lions in that series-winning third Test four years ago, leads the side and teams up with George Kruis in the second row. That pair will be hoping to combat All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock at the lineout in what should be an intriguing set-piece battle.
Wales centre Jonathan Davies, another triumphant tourist in 2013, makes his first appearance of the tour having been so impressive in the Scarlets’ Guinness Pro12-winning campaign. George North and Sean O’Brien also get their first runouts – and they are two players the Kiwi rugby public are well aware of given their powerful displays over the years.
“This is an experienced team with nine of the starting 15 players having featured in 2013,” said Gatland. “Our squad is working hard and we are seeing improvement in their performances both at training and in the games.
“We are looking forward to the clash against the Crusaders and we expect a tough game against the most successful team in Super Rugby history.”
FOR THE LATEST SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS, CLICK HERE
There are a host of All Blacks in the Crusaders line-up, including the entire front row of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks, with another international, Wyatt Crockett, on the bench. Whitelock captains the side while Israel Dagg is at full-back.
Key things Gatland and his coaches will want to see from his side are better discipline – they gave away far too many penalties against the Blues, which meant they couldn’t build any momentum – and a more clinical edge in attack. They started brightly at Eden Park, building phases and stretching the Blues, but dropped off as the game wore on and had few meaningful attacks in the second half, none which threatened the try-line.
It’s interesting that Gatland has opted for Stuart Hogg at full-back instead of giving Liam Williams a run in his favoured position. That suggests the Lions see it as a battle between Hogg and Leigh Halfpenny for that Test berth at 15 – and the Scot must improve on his performance against the NZ Provincial Barbarians last weekend if he is to edge out Halfpenny.
The back row is also an intriguing mix. Peter O’Mahony offers another lineout option, which the Lions may feel they need come the Test series, while O’Brien’s power should complement Taulupe Faletau’s softer skills. Yet who will be dominating at the breakdown? There is no turnover specialist in this match-day 23 and Crusaders openside Matt Todd will no doubt be looking to gain an advantage in the contact area on Saturday night. There are fascinating subplots across the pitch!
Crusaders v British & Irish Lions, Saturday 10 June, 7.35pm (8.35am UK & Ireland), AMI Stadium, live on Sky Sports and TalkSport
Crusaders: Israel Dagg; Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge; Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall; Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock (capt), Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua.
Replacements: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Jed Brown, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Tim Bateman.
Lions: Stuart Hogg; George North, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te’o, Liam Williams; Owen Farrell, Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, George Kruis, Alun Wyn Jones (capt), Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Johnny Sexton, Anthony Watson.