The Lions are looking for the first series win in New Zealand since 1971Kiwi Flickr

The British and Irish Lions have been in New Zealand for over two weeks now and, with the first of three Tests against the All Blacks this Saturday, the time has come to see whether they will roar, or merely purr.

The past fortnight has seen the best rugby players of Britain and Ireland take on a host of provincial and Super Rugby teams, as well as the New Zealand Maori, in preparation for the Test series against the best rugby team in the world – perhaps the best rugby team ever.

The Lions’ record so far stands at Played 6, Won 4. Both losses were in close games that never should have been that way, but the Lions have struggled at times to click. In defence and at the set piece they look very strong, but in attack there is a lot left to be desired. In the first five matches, they scored only seven tries, and though they scored four against a depleted Chiefs side on Tuesday, the All Blacks put 12 past Samoa on Friday, winning 78-0 in wet conditions.

Different combinations have been tried and tested, and head coach Warren Gatland will be close to knowing who will be in his ‘Test 23’. Certainly, the pattern for how they are going to play has become clear: put the Kiwis on the back foot with dominant scrums and mauls, rush up in defence to shut down their attack, kick for territory; repeat. In the opening game of the tour, against the ‘Provincial Barbarians’ there were some signs of clever attacking plays but they seems to have been put back in the locker for the time being. Whether we see them again this weekend could determine the result.

Against the Crusaders, a Super Rugby team which was unbeaten this season, the Lions suffocated their opposition, winning 12-3. They would take the same result against New Zealand without question but keeping the All Blacks to 3 points is just not going to happen. They average at least 4 tries a game and their only defeat since winning the World Cup in 2015 came against Ireland in Chicago, when their side was somewhat depleted. The score that day was 40-29. Although the Lions beat the Maori 32-10 and the Chiefs 34-6, the first of these sides was largely a scratch team and the latter was missing more than 10 first-team players.

There are signs of improvement, though, with the more impressive performance against the Chiefs signalling growing confidence within the squad. Centres Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies have been in good form, showing glimpses of the individual brilliance needed to match the All Blacks. The problem until now has been turning their breaks into points. In the early part of the tour, the support lines just weren’t there, meaning that ball has too often been turned over. Against the Chiefs on Tuesday, things started to click more in the second half as the game opened up and the outside backs finally came into the tour. Jack Nowell and Liam Williams in particular, who have both had indifferent tours so far, found their gears and made a strong case for their inclusion in the Test side.

If their attacking game continues to improve during the course of this week, we will have a cracker of a test match on our hands come Saturday, but at the moment I fear there is too much reliance on the pack and the defence. If it comes off it will be one of the Lions’ greatest ever victories, but I think they will need something a bit more to beat this New Zealand team.

My Test Team

  1. Mako Vunipola –His scrummaging has improved massively and he offers so much around the park, carrying and acting as a link man.
  2. Jamie George –We haven’t seen him at his best just yet but he is a strong scrummager and accurate in the lineout.
  3. Tadgh Furlong –Furlong is strong in the scrum and carries very well, so will start, but they will want the dynamism of Sinckler coming off the bench.
  4. Maro Itoje – despite being the youngest man on the tour, Itoje’s youth has never let him down and he is an incredible athlete
  5. George Kruis – Kruis been another of the stand-out players this tour and is someone who gives 110% for the full 80 minutes. He completes the Saracens spine of the pack.
  6. Peter O’Mahony (Captain) –He has been brilliant so far, is a workhorse and a lineout menace.
  7. Sean O’Brien – there is no question for me that O’Brien starts at openside. He has been one of the Lions’ best players on tour, edging out Sam Warburton.
  8. Taulupe Faletau – he is back to his best and unrivalled at the back of the scrum. He has been simply outstanding and will start every test if fit.
  9. Conor Murray – Murray fully deserves to start: his kicking is deadly accurate, his pass crisp and he can be an extra back-rower when needed.
  10. Owen Farrell – he is probably the key man for the Lions, so it is great news that he has recovered from his leg injury.
  11. George North – He hasn’t been at his all-time best for a while now but when he plays well he is up there with the greats. He has the ability to run over, around, or even under people, as he showed on the last tour.
  12. Ben Te’o – Sexton-Farrell combination has also not been tried owing to Farrell’s absence on Saturday, whilst Henshaw has not shone in the same way as Te’o.
  13. Jonathan Davies – Gatland is a big Davies fan. Don’t be surprised to see Jonathan Joseph picked for one of the later Tests, though.
  14. Anthony Watson – Arguably the most impressive member of the back-three, who also did very well from full-back against the Crusaders.
  15. Leigh Halfpenny – this was the toughest selection. I was torn between Halfpenny, Daly and Watson, but Halfpenny just about gets the nod, and he is another favourite of Gatland’s.

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