Gatland has made some changes to his 23 man squad to face the All Blacks in this series’ second test following the somewhat embarrassing 30-15 defeat in the opener. The Lions were put to the sword by the Kiwis direct running off 9 and 10 which gave New Zealand quick ball allowing them to cause chaos in the structure-less, free flowing rugby they are known and envied for. The All Blacks were clinical, converting all their opportunities into points unlike the Lions who’s errors arguably cost them the game.
Sam Warburton reclaims his starting shirt which will hopefully stop the All Blacks having so much quick ball. Lacking an out and out open side flanker last week Warburton could be pivotal to the Lions claiming a test victory at the Westpac stadium in Wellington this Saturday. The introduction of Itoje will also help at the breakdown – together, Warburton and Itoje are two of the northern hemisphere’s best over the ball and if the pair can slow the All Blacks down, the Lions have both the creativity in the middle and the pace and power out wide to score points and claim the all important win. A loss will mean there is no coming back. Warburton must lead them to victory.
Despite Te’o being one of last weeks stand out performers for the British Lions he has been dropped to the bench. Gatland has opted for the combination of Owen Farrell and Jonathan Davies, with Johnny Sexton moving in to 10 giving the Lions a lot more creativity in the mid-field, this is where they will hope to win the game. Jonathan Davies keeps his spot in the starting line up following an impressive shift last week but the centre partnership of Farrell and Davies will have their hands full with Sonny Bill-Williams and the newly introduced ‘wrecking ball’ that is Lienert-Brown. Through these pair the All Blacks will look to get over the gain line up the middle, using the offloading ability of Sonny Bill, before going wide. The Lions defence will have to be solid if there is any chance of a test victory. They will need a bullish rush defence meeting the Kiwi’s way before the gain line in order to stop their front foot ball, every hit must be positive giving Warburton, O’Brien and Itoje the chance to steal the ball.
Don’t argue Sonny Bill.
O’Brien, who keeps his starting jersey this week, has said:
“we’re ready to express ourselves in the second test”
And Kiwi Boss, Steve Hansen, is expecting the Lions to bring a do or die attitude he has said.
There is excitement in the Lions camp; the players and boss Gatland seem confident. But there is a lot to improve on from last week if they are to be the world’s best.
That one drop ball aside, Liam Williams played the All Blacks at their own game and had a lot of success. His counter attacking from deep, at times, tore New Zealand apart.
Gatland will hope to see more of this from the whole back three and Nowell should he come on from the bench. They will however, undoubtedly come under fire from the formidable Reiko Ioane and Naholo and so again the Lions defence will be huge in contributing to a potential win.
The best form of defence is attack. Gatland has picked a starting fifteen capable of scoring 4 or 5 tries in a game and a bench that can add impact and add points.