Ollie Phillips: Why there is a strong case for British and Irish Lions success in the first Test against New Zealand

 
Ollie Phillips
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Crusaders v British & Irish Lions
The front row is one area where the Lions could steal a march on New Zealand (Source: Getty)

If I had to put my mortgage on it, there is no chance I would bet against New Zealand, but a robust case can be made for British and Irish Lions success as the Test series gets underway in Auckland on Saturday.

You can’t escape from the fact that the All Blacks smashed Samoa 78-0 last week so they are not a side shy on points; they are going to be unbelievably tough to beat at Eden Park, where they have not lost since 1994.

That said, New Zealand’s front row – Crusaders trio Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks – struggled when they came up against the Lions in the tour match. Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong got the better of their counterparts that day.

In the same clash the Lions caused problems in the line-out against lock Sam Whitelock and there is an opportunity for the tourists to have a go there, with George Kruis and Alun Wyn Jones forming such a great partnership.

Thirdly, when you have players coming back into the side after the best part of two months out through injury, no matter how good they are there will always be an element of ring-rustiness.

Skipper Kieran Read, who is set to start at No8, and centre Ryan Crotty fall into that category and have not played since April so there is a chance that the Lions can catch them on the hop.

Of course, when you have a backline which also includes Aaron Smith, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith then it remains immensely dangerous. They are just electric.

But I am buoyed by the Lions’ selection and you have to take your hat off to head coach Warren Gatland because he’s picked the best possible side, on form, to go out there and take on the All Blacks.

There could be an argument for the likes of Maro Itoje or Kyle Sinckler to start, but what Gatland has at his disposable is a bench full of replacements who can come on and change the game.

I don’t think there will be any secrets to the way the Lions play. Centres Jonathan Davies and Ben Te’o are going to run all day, be immensely physical and look to quash the threat posed by Sonny Bill and Crotty.

If they try and play expansive rugby then the world champions will probably tear them apart. The Lions haven’t been together long enough to be sufficiently creative to challenge New Zealand in that respect.

The Lions will need to be really tight and play attritional, territorial rugby, try to disrupt the set-piece, nick points, force errors and be sharper defensively than ever before.

By playing a back three of Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson, the Lions do possess pace and finishing ability should a chance materialise. Aside from those three, expect a barrage of physicality.

Ollie is currently cycling across America for Asthma UK. To show your support, please visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ollie-Phillips2017

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