British and Irish Lions Tour: New Zealand v British and Irish Lions 2nd Test Preview

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The British and Irish Lions will be looking to keep their dreams of a series victory alive when they take on the All Blacks at the Westpac Stadium this Saturday. 

The All Blacks drew first blood last week with a 30-15 victory over the Lions at Eden Park. The win has seen them take a 1-0 lead as we head to Eden Park for what should be a cracking Test match.

New Zealand v British and Irish Lions | Saturday 1 July | Westpac Stadium | 09:35

To Win (80 Mins)
New Zealand 2/13 | Draw 28/1 | Lions 4/1
New Zealand (-13.5) 9/10 | Lions (+13.5) 9/10

New Zealand
The All Blacks proved why they are the best in the business last Saturday with a clinical performance against the best the home countries have to offer. Hansen’s men soaked up a lot of pressure during the first 50-minutes or so and then ran the Lions rampant during the final 30-minutes. And while this has become the status quo for the All Blacks, it was amazing to see them implement that tactic with such success against a team as strong as the Lions.

Even more impressive was New Zealand’s ability to counteract the much-vaunted Lions defensive system. The talk during the build-up to the opening Test was that the Lions forwards would dominate the set piece and that their defensive structure would frustrate the All Blacks into making errors. That scenario wasn’t to play out, however, as the All Blacks crashed and bashed their way into the Lions oncoming defenders. And then when the Lions tired, the hosts were able to find more gaps and be more expansive with ball-in-hand.

While the All Blacks victory was built around a solid team effort, there were a few players that really shone. Rieko Ioane confirmed his arrival on the biggest stage outside of a World Cup year, with two well-taken tries, while Kieran Read was phenomenal on his return from a thumb injury. Kudos must also go to Aaron Smith who really stepped up to the plate after almost a year of indifferent performances.

 The Highlanders nine controlled the game brilliantly and was the better of the two scrum-halves on the field last Saturday, which is high praise considering the form Lions’ nine Connor Murray has been in.

Speaking of Highlanders men, fullback Ben Smith will miss out on Saturday’s fixture through a concussion. Smith will be joined on the sidelines by Crusaders veteran Ryan Crotty, who sustained a hamstring injury during the first half.

With Smith and Crotty out of contention, coach Steve Hansen has some tough calls to make this week. I suspect he’ll replace Ryan Crotty with Anton Linhart Brown but how he replaces Smith is more open ended. One of his options is to move Beuden Barrett to fullback and start Aaron Cruden at 10. This is what they did when Smith went off during the first Test and it worked at treat. Barrett has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t enjoy starting at fullback, which kind of throws a spanner in the works.

Another option for Hansen is to move Israel Dagg to fullback and bring Waisake Naholo in on the wing. This is probably the smarter move as the Lions are likely to start giant wing George North after the Welshman put in a solid display against the Hurricanes midweek. Naholo’s physicality would go a long way in negating North’s presence.

They may have gone down by 15 points but the Lions really did put in a solid shift, and the scoreline could have been a lot tighter had it not been for some handling errors at the most inopportune of times.

The Lions actually managed to score the try of the game, which is quite a feat when you’re taking on the All Blacks. The try in question came from 85 metres out and was sparked by a brilliant run from Welsh utility back, Liam Williams. That five-pointer drew the Lions within five points of the New Zealanders just before the half-time hooter went. This was to be the closest the Lions came to the All Blacks, however, as missed chances and some clinical play from the hosts saw the scoreline blow out to 30-15.

So how do the Lions turn things around and keep their series hopes alive? Well, I think they need to make some personal changes. Alwyn Jones is a brilliant player but I just feel as though Mario Itoje offers more at lock.

Warren Gatland should also look at bringing George North in for Elliot Daly. I actually thought Daly played really well last week and his kicking game will be missed but North just offers a lot more power in attack. North has been ruled out of the remainder of the tour with a hamstring strain, which means Elliot Dailly is likley to keep his role for the two remaing tests.

While these personal changes should help the Lions cause, they will also need to look to continue running the ball. They really did show some promise with ball-in-hand, and if they can be slightly more clinical, then they will cause the All Blacks all sorts of problems.

Verdict: Lions (+13.5) 9/10
I feel this one is going to be a lot tighter than the first Test. Jerome Garces will be the referee and as we all know French refs tend to kill the momentum of games. There’s also a hell of a lot of rain floating around Wellington this weekend which means ball handling will be a lot tougher. The All Blacks will win it but by between 6 and 10 points rather than 14 or more.

Written by Darry Worthington for!

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