New Zealand vs British & Irish Lions in Auckland
Saturday, June 24
Eden Park, Auckland
19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Yes, we finally get to see them in action. They now battle in a mouth-watering 1st Test in Auckland.
What they say
Steve Hansen & Warren Gatland have received something or another on each tour. Thus, adding to the tension & excitement ahead of the weekend. It is incredible though how the momentum in terms of All Black backing seems to have slowed down even in the past week as the Lions have shown they can be a serious contender in the coming 3 games.
Team New Zealand
When New Zealand brushed aside Samoa last Friday, it was all about the 3-0 series sweep. We then saw a solid show from the Lions on Saturday verses the Maori All Blacks & again on Tuesday when the midweek outfit also shone, albeit verses the depleted Chiefs.
We can now saw that the Maori game was a better gauge to judge where the Lions are at & despite that host team not having lots of time to click, the way the Lions closed down Damian McKenzie, Rieko Ioane, James Lowe and many more. They are on the right track again.
They now have to face the likes of Beauden Barrett, Ben Smith, Israel Dagg & Kieran Read.
In the defense, they appear very confident but the team selection from head coach Gatland shows they want to play too, with Liam Williams chosen over Leigh Halfpenny.
An exciting line-up expected from Gatland. We must not think the Lions would throw the ball around on Saturday, especially with the rain forecast in Auckland. If it rains, it suits the Lions & their strong tight game that is built on Conor Murray’s tactical kicking.
Both team benches will have a major role to play. In particular, Maro Itoje for the Lions. What wins through will take a massive step towards series glory.
Players to watch
For New Zealand
Kieran Read returns as a significant boost. Furthermore, an excellent bench option as Ardie Savea waits on the edge of his seat. Read hitting the ground running is a huge ask after such a long time out, but he is a special player. Also watch fly-half Beauden Barrett as he looks to continue his excellent try-scoring form.
For British & Irish Lions
NZ struggled to contain Liam Williams last year & Lions will hope the same to repeat here. Probably, Gatland has gone with Williams’ attacking threat over the reliable goal-kicking option of Leigh Halfpenny. This adds pressure on Owen Farrell.
In 2005, New Zealand 38-19 in Auckland, NZ won 48-18 in Wellington & same year they won 21-3 in Christchurch.
The All Blacks have too much quality & will come out on top.
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