The Eden Project

We were at Eden Park 12 years ago for the final test of the 2005 tour when the Lions lost heavily to end up going down 3-0 in the series.

The All Blacks record there is formidable – I mentioned the statistics in a post last week (‘Garden of Eden’) and the fact that they haven’t lost there for 23 years

Truth is though, it’s not a particularly intimidating stadium – apart for the statistics – and it certainly won’t be tomorrow with over 20,000 in red shirts on the side lines.

In reality, 4 days before that last test, the midweek team beat Auckland at Eden Park 17-13 which completed a complete sweep of the midweek fixtures.

The fact that the 2005 side only lost the tests and the game against the Maori ABs endorses the view that it is only the tests that count – and all that anyone remembers.

So it is again this year – in fact the whole tour rests on the result tomorrow in my view.

Forget that the game is at Eden Park – it’s an impressive record but just like the ABs unbeaten run it will fall at some time.

The All Blacks have played just the one game in the run up to the series – admittedly they demolished Samoa, but to put it into context Samoa lost this morning to the Welsh second team.

By contrast the Lions are pretty battle hardened having come through the ‘suicide’ itinerary that they have been faced with.

Captain Kieran Reed will be playing his first game for some time and Ryan Crotty has also been out injured.

However the All Blacks are the best team on the planet and have a formidable and experienced line-up. Even with Reiko Ioane playing for just the third time in a black jersey, they start with a total of 788 caps.

If the Lions are to have any chance of taking the series then they have to win tomorrow – only Finlay Calder has captained a Lions side that came back from 1-0 down (1989 Australia).

The All Blacks will improve over the three games.

The ‘Saturday’ Lions have shown that they can shut down the NZ wide offloading game in the matches against the Maori and Crusaders.

They need to up that intensity tomorrow and keep it going for 80 minutes.

The longer they frustrate the ABs the better the chance of capitalising on the errors that will occur when the men in black try to run from deep  – just as Ireland did when Robbie Henshaw scored late in the last quarter.

The Lions should stick to the game plan that has seen them close down the wide game that the NZ teams play – the risk is that they try and open up and allow the ABs to benefit from mistakes.

The weather looks like it will be just what Dr Borthwick ordered and that will help the set piece.

Personally I would have preferred a French referee but hope that the Pied Peyper doesn’t fall for Steve Hansen’s mind games.

After all that prevaricating I am going for a Lions win by 6 points and keeping my fingers crossed.

There are other Games?

From the euphoria from New Zealand you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only rugby on this weekend is in Auckland.

It’s not – England and Wales (who played earlier today) are not involved but there are 7 other international matches.

South Africa have won the series against France, but play the last game in Johannesburg. The Springboks should make it 3-0 in the series by taking down Les Bleus by 15 points

Scotland are in Fiji and will be looking to get their third win for Gregor Townsend – they should do as well, winning by 13

Australia are under the hammer both domestically and at international level. Michael Chieka has made sweeping changes and should get the win he badly needs at the expense of Italy – by 20+ points too.

Japan host Ireland in Tokyo where Joe Schmidt’s team will triumph by around 26

It will be a surprise in Bucharest if Romania don’t hammer Brazil by at least 25

The North American derby between Canada and USA will see the home side cruise home by less than 3 points.

Finally Georgia will go down to the Pumas but by less than most people imagine – Argentina by 13

However these are all eclipsed by what’s going on at Eden Park tomorrow

 

“Something Wonderful”

We have a heavy schedule at the hospital next week so we decided to enjoy ourselves – we went to Bournemouth on Monday for a couple of nights. Yeah I know it’s where people go to die, but we made it back okay without tripping over the grim reaper on the beach.

Then last night we went to see an amateur production of ‘The King and I’ – that should give Harro scope to take the piss out of me!

It was at ‘The Playhouse’ just outside Turnip Town and it was bloody excellent.

The fact that Terry and I had seen Yul Brynner star in a major production on stage in London in 1980 gave it a lot to live up to – and it fared very well.

 

Been a good week – now, if only the Lions can top it off! (plus a Euromillions jackpot, obviously)

Form Over Function

The Lions team for the first test was announced at 8pm (our time) last night.

Before I talk about Gatland’s selections v the one I would have selected (yesterday’s ‘A Heavy responsibility’ post), I wanted to indicate what the biggest disappointment for me is.

The Lions is supposed to be the one time that the 4 home nations actually come together to create a side that can tour and take on the best of the Southern Hemisphere.

You wouldn’t have thought so after the team was announced, there was an outcry of complaints over who was in (and out). No problem with that, there are bound to be disagreements – however the ‘nationalistic’ bias of the moaning made you think that maybe the Lions is a dead concept after all.

The Welsh howled at the omission of George North and Sam Warburton, the Irish were upset that Johnny wasn’t starting, the English wanted Maro on the pitch at the ko and the Scots would have been happy if any of theirs was even on the bench!

By contrast the news from the camp was that those who had the most right to be disappointed, were actually the most supportive of the lucky 23 who will carry the hopes of (sadly) 4 nations on Saturday.

The team I chose yesterday was right from 1-9 but had Johnny instead of Ben and Leigh rather than Elliott.

I was wrong, but at least I wasn’t trying to pack as many English blokes into the side as possible just because I was born on this side of the Severn and south of Hawick.

I think the side has been picked on a combination of form rather than reputation and with a style that Gatland wants to play (or try and play).

Coming into the tour, Stuart Hogg had always been favourite to beat Leigh Halfpenny to the 15 shirt because of his attacking ability. You have to assume that Liam Williams is there to take on that role.

I wanted the combo of Owen and Johnny to create uncertainty in the All Blacks defence – but I appreciate that ben is probably best to take on the muscularity of SBW.

The bench offers much from 60 minutes – not least the introduction of Maro, Sam, Jack et al.

Backs: 15 Liam Williams (Wales); 14 Anthony Watson (England), 13 Jonathan Davies (Wales), 12 Ben Te’o (England), 11 Elliot Daly (England); 10 Owen Farrell (England), 9 Conor Murray (Ireland);

Forwards: 1 Mako Vunipola (England), 2 Jamie George (England), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Ireland); 4 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), 5 George Kruis (England); 6 Peter O’Mahony – captain (Ireland), 7 Sean O’Brien (Ireland), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Wales).

Replacements: 16 Ken Owens (Wales), 17 Jack McGrath (Ireland), 18 Kyle Sinckler (England), 19 Maro Itoje (England), 20 Sam Warburton (Wales), 21 Rhys Webb (Wales), 22 Jonathan Sexton (Ireland), 23 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales).

The biggest concern for me is not the selections but Warren Gatland’s statement that ‘the Lions will attack more than they have all tour’

If Warren Gatland is trying to confuse the All Blacks about what tactics his British and Irish Lions will use in the first Test, he’s doing a pretty decent job.

Addressing the media on Thursday, Gatland spoke with energy about unfurling an attacking brand against the world champions at Eden Park.

Maybe this is just chucking a grenade at the ABs management to confuse them – but I think it is a worry if he means it.

England in 1991 arrived at the World Cup final on the back of a much criticised style of ‘boring’ rugby.

When they tried to open up in the final with a game plan that had not been used and was alien, they left Twickenham with the silver medal.

I was in the stands with Rich that day and we would have given anything to have won sticking to a boring game. If it’s effective, that’s all that counts!

Roll on Saturday.

Going Over the Hill

In one of the posts above I bitched about the xenophobic press and media comments that immediately followed the Lions team announcement with nationalistic prejudices outweighing the need for the strongest team.

I had to laugh though when I saw this from Chris Kirwan on Twitter –

IMG_4086

Brilliant!

Chris is a journo in Wales – he obviously has a great sense of humour and understands what makes the Lions tick – don’t think he’s related to Sir John!

 

Depth Charged

Most of the talk has been about the Lions team for Saturday rather than who they will line up opposite for the haka.

This might be because there were few surprises expected in the All Black team –

The match day 23 for the first Test of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series is (with Test caps in brackets):

  1. Joe Moody (25)
    2. Codie Taylor (16)
    3. Owen Franks (91)
    4. Brodie Retallick (61)
    5. Samuel Whitelock (85)
    6. Jerome Kaino (78)
    7. Sam Cane (41)
    8. Kieran Read (97) – Captain
    9. Aaron Smith (59)
    10. Beauden Barrett (50)
    11. Rieko Ioane (2)
    12. Sonny Bill Williams (34)
    13. Ryan Crotty (26)
    14. Israel Dagg (62)
    15. Ben Smith (61)
  2. 16. Nathan Harris (5)
    17. Wyatt Crockett (59)
    18. Charlie Faumuina (47)
    19. Scott Barrett (5)
    20. Ardie Savea (13)
    21. TJ Perenara (30)
    22. Aaron Cruden (47) / Lima Sopoaga (7)
    23. Anton Lienert-Brown (10)

Whichever way you cut it , it was always going to be an exceptionally powerful team.

The strength in depth is highlighted by the bench which doesn’t have room for Waisake Naholo or Julian Savea!

The ‘Bus’ is second on the all- time try scorers for NZ – 47 from 53 matches – just behind Doug Howlett (49 from 62)

Will Kieran Read or Ryan Crotty be a little rusty? We can but hope.