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Previewing New Zealand v British and Irish Lions

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Having completed five games of the series, the best talent that Britain and Ireland has to offer have a record of three wins and two losses. Bearing in mind these are against significantly weakened club teams. 

There can be quite a bit said in defence of the side in red. The losses of Billy Vunipola and Ben Young are huge and now they’ve lost Scotland’s Stuart Hogg too. Gatland has been chopping and changing, trying to find that perfect team chemistry. Importantly too, the players just aren’t used to each other, and it’s tough to find chemistry with the frequent changes. Even so, they’ve just not been good enough as of yet, despite showing signs of improvement against the Maori All Blacks in their latest 32-10 win.

During the 2013 tour in Australia, the Lions lost just one game. Against the Brumbies, and that was marginally. They’ve already lost two games, and two of their wins came with a fair slice of luck.

What does this say? For me, two things. Firstly, that the although the squad this year might be of a higher quality, it has a dearth of experience. Players with experience such as Jones or Jenkins are gone. Only fifteen players of this tour were present in Australia.

Secondly, and more obviously, it says that New Zealand are just a head above the rest. The manner in which Sonny-Bill Williams dismantled the Lions in their game against the Blues was incredible. The Lions found themselves lacking against the might of Waisake Naholo in their loss to the Highlanders. Even in the win against the Crusaders, I thought it was more a case that it was an off day for the Christchurch side.

Sonny Bill Williams proved too much [RTE]

As for the Lions… The forward pack seems to be lacking in the driving power that will be needed to compete against Retallick, Luatua and co. To compete in the line-outs is going to be no small task, and to face up against the interlinking style that the New Zealanders operate with is going to be a challenge.

Despite a backline that could play host to George North, Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph and Liam Williams, will they have what it takes to cut down the likes of the Barrett brothers, Dagg and Savea, to name but a few?

Not only cut down on defence, but will they also be able to break past on attack? A huge ask. It’s a series in which kicking could prove more valuable than ever, and in Farrell the Lions may have the edge. They probably have it too if they go with Sexton ahead of the Englishman. Although, in a game against the All Blacks, it isn’t often that kicking wins the game, as a result of the high scores etc. 

It does sound like I’m being harsh on the Lions, I agree. I’m in no way taking away from the talent that the squad holds. The loss to the club sides is testament to the quality of the New Zealand rugby, and a sign of how much more the Lions need prepare. I’m not ruling out the Lions, by any means. There is hope. It just has to be realised that nothing about coming up against this team is going to be like it was four years ago.

New Zealand's Julian Savea [Blood&Mud]

So, what does this mean for the tests? It’s not good. New Zealand had their winning run broken by a marvellous display from a determined Ireland side, in Chicago last year. Before that, the last loss was 8 August 2015, in the Rugby Championship to Australia. The side has gotten better, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be a fun 240-odd minutes for the touring team.

The Lions game on the 17th against the Maori All Blacks has certainly shored up what hope there is, but there is still a mountain to climb. The first test is on the 24th of June, in Auckland. 

I would very much like to have to eat my words, even a print out of this article- if the Lions manage to win one game. Sadly, though, I don’t see it happening. 

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