British and Irish Lions Tour: Test Two Preview
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Eight games in, the British & Irish Lions have only two games left of the 2017 tour – with Saturday’s upcoming game critical if they are to come home (somewhat) victorious.
Of the eight games played, the northern-hemisphere tourists have won four, lost two midweek clashes and tied their most recent game against Super Rugby champions, the Hurricanes.
However, all Lions Tours revolve around the 3-test Series. Losing their first All Blacks encounter 30-15 means they can’t slip up anymore if they are to win the Test Series.
But first some stats in relation to what’s left of the trip.
The British & Irish Lions have lost every second Test since beating the Springboks in 1997.
Still, the Lions’ last win over the All Blacks came in their second Test in 1993.
No need to get your hopes up against the All Blacks, though; the kiwis have a 90% win ratio at Westpac Stadium, the best of any Test team at any ground.
Oh also, the All Blacks haven’t lost on home soil this decade. Their last loss in New Zealand was in 2009 against South Africa.
If a team is to beat them in their backyard, it should be a selection of the best players from some of the top rugby nations - especially following an Australian and South African decline in recent times.
Every Lions Tour needs some controversy. Played rugby aside, much attention has revolved around the mid-tour call-ups.
Players are needed following injury of original squad-members, and these are expected to be the next best in-line.
However, the Lions Head Coach Warren Gatland has come under fire for calling up backup players to join the tourists.
It turns out they were chosen not simply based on skill but also their location. With Wales touring Samoa and Scotland in Australia, their players could arrive, integrate and start training faster than, say, English players busy in Argentina.
These players have come to be dubbed The Geography Six, like a lame high school rock band.
Only two got any game time, neither of them in a Test and both through forced substitutions (Head Injury Assessment and Sin-bin). Gatland admitted he avoided playing them unless necessary out of respect to the Lions shirt. Ironically this tactic cost him further criticism from past Lions, like Martin Bayfield and Stephen Ferris.
So, what of the next Test, the decisive second game?
Many saw last Saturday’s Lions as the strongest 15, and despite the loss pundits are calling for a largely unchanged side.
The biggest uncertainties for the Lions seem to be in the lock pairing and back row. Many howled at the selection of Alun Wyn Jones, although the Lions’ lineout out-shined the All Blacks last week. He was probably picked for his experience, as the most capped player within the 45 Lions – and All Blacks.
This is evident in his captaincy over Warburton. The Tour Captain returns to the starting 15 but is stripped of this leading honour.
Last week’s captain O’Mahoney is dropped from the 23 altogether, while fellow Irishman CJ Stander sits on the bench. Also benefiting from his midweek performance is Courtney Lawes, who was subbed off early on Tuesday to be fresh for Saturday.
In the mid-field, calls for an extra passing option with Sexton and Farrell have been plauded. Ben Te’o is relegated to the bench, no doubt relishing another opportunity to lock horns with Sonny Bill Williams.
For the kiwis, Ngani Laumape earned a spot in the 23. As the only uncapped player of this Series, he showed the Lions what he’s made of on Tuesday – adding a 15th try in as many games this season.
The Lions lost the element of surprise, their secret weapon, but not all is lost. The All Blacks were not their usual flawless off-loading, barn-storming team we all know.
Every team needs a game or two to get into gear, the Lions hope to get into that gear before the All Blacks on Saturday.
If they can set a lead early on, and have the kiwis chasing them – their defence has proven sturdy against top teams this tour.
At the end of the day, it seems ludicrous to predict anything but an All Blacks win.
Image Credit - Instagram. Wikipedia Commons