The lines have been drawn in the sand and the time has come to see who will stand at the end of eighty minutes…
It is most properly the most anticipated test series in the modern time rugby as the British and Irish Lions will face-off against the World’s number side in their own back yard.
Not even Hollywood could have scripted this better and we are in for an epic battle between two top sides for the next three weeks.
All these sideshows are done and dusted now and all that is left is for the real test to separate these two quality teams. Allot have been said about Lions coach Gatland but it it was time he made the hard decisions for the better of the team.
The biggest of them all is to not be drawn into selecting his tour captain for the first test but pick the best team who have been showing the form that is needed to take on the All Blacks. Peter O’Mahony will captain the side in the first test which see tour captain Sam Warburton starting on the bench.
Lions head coach Warren Gatland said: “We have picked a side based on form with a lot of players putting their hands up, especially from the Crusaders and Maori All Blacks games, and it was a lively selection meeting.
“The win against the Chiefs was also extremely important for the squad and some players played themselves into the side.
“We have continuously been strong at set piece and have been good defensively in the last two or three outings. But to beat the All Blacks you have to be courageous and play some rugby – you have to score tries and I think we have picked a team capable of doing that.”
Liam Williams was selected at fullback and Elliot Day on the wing. In the pack is exactly the same as the one that beaten the Crusaders a few weeks ago with the back row of O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau and Gatland added: “It’s a reward for how the back row has gone. There is a nice balance there while Peter captained the side against the Maori All Blacks and has done a good job.”
“We are excited about the 15 that take the field but also the very strong and experienced bench players who will have an impact.”
For the All Blacks their captain Read is back to lead his team on the field on Saturday which means that Ardie Savea moves to the bench. Ioane have replaced Julian Savea on the left wing as well for this important first test match.
In the midfield Hansen went for Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams which will see Lienert-Brown move to bench. With Barrett at the important ten jumper Hansen have not yet decided who between Cruden or Sopoaga will back him up on the bench, that decision will be made on Friday.
Hansen said: “This was a really tough team to pick because there were a number of players in great form vying for positions. But in the end the three selectors felt this was the best combination to take on the Lions in the first Test.”
Hansen added it was great to have Read and Crotty back.
“They’ve both been on target to return for this game all the way through, are both in great shape and, together with the rest of the squad, they’re really excited at what’s ahead of us.”I’d also like to congratulate Rieko on getting his first start for the All Blacks. His outstanding form throughout the season this year, including against the Lions, has earned him his start on the wing.”
Hansen said there was a massive amount of excitement within the team.
“There’s a real understanding that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The players are well aware of the history of the All Blacks and the Lions and are determined to respect that history with their performances.
“We know this is a very good British and Irish Lions team; probably one of the best to have toured here. It’ll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of. We know the importance of this match and we will bring real energy and intensity. It’ll be a physical Test but, just as importantly, it will be a mental test.
“There will be a unique and electric atmosphere at Eden Park on Saturday night. It’s something we’re really looking forward to and we can’t wait.”
For sure this test match and the series will be won and lost at set piece time, without the ball you can have as many skilled players, but they won’t score any tries.
The All Black back line will be a handful but the Lions defence have been brilliant in the last three games. Apart from the forward battle that will be huge, we need to take note that the two best 10’s in the world at this stage will face each other. There play and partnership with their halfbacks will be crucial.
One thing is for sure, we cannot wait!
Prediction: Anyone that can predict this outcome is worth the money he spend on betting, this is going to be a tough one and I give it to All Blacks with 4 points just because they are at home.
New Zealand: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
British and Irish Lions: 15 Liam Williams, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O’Brien, 6 Peter O’Mahony (c), 5 George Kruis, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Tadgh Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Jonathan Sexton, 23 Leigh Halfpenny