Form, Spice and All that’s Nice……..British and Irish Lions Matchday Selection vs All Blacks…Saturday 24 June Eden Park

Sun Tzu once said “The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim”. Warren Gatland is standalone man, making the decision on the Lions match day 23 to engage with the All Blacks at Eden Park come this Saturday. Let us examine his troops to see their efficiency, effectiveness and readiness for the Eden Park skirmish. The scrum has been the mainstay of the tour so far, with its ability to disrupt provided they adapt quickly to whoever is officiating. They have dominated in the lineout and the coal face, Mako Vunipola is an extraordinary player with wonderful hands and high work rate. His one tiny blemish is that he may not be the strongest scrummager but he will be valuable in his loose play. He combines with his Saracens teammate Jamie George, who has strength, pace and accurate throwing essential for the set piece. Much has been said about him getting his England caps coming off the bench, it is wonderful to see how he has definitely earned his test start. Tadhg Furlong has been tasked with keeping the scrum stable, straight and he certainly returns that and more with his tackling. He definitely has got All Blacks attention after his Maori performance. Alun Wyn Jones provides composure and experience which probably edged him over Maro Itoje in selection as the latter has been guilty of indiscipline, something they can ill afford to give free points to the All Blacks. Alun has a phenomenal engine and work rate .Second row partner George Kruis is simply world class, he has an amazing presence in the lineout, a great rugby brain and I will go as far as saying he is equal with New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock who is regarded as the best in the business. A nice balance has been struck in the backrow as Taulupe Faletau has negated the absence of his cousin Billy Vunipola at number eight. He has been outstanding in the games he has been chosen, showing his ball in hand skills and excellent defence. He provides an extra option in the lineout and I am pretty confident he will outshine All Black Captain Kieran Read. Sean O’brien is destruction personified he is abrasive in his ball carrying as well as destructive at the breakdown. New Zealand will be wary of him as he hunts down their backline. Matchday Captain Peter O’Mahony completes the backrow and what a transformation as he nearly didn’t make the Ireland game against England let alone the tour. O’Mahony‘s mental toughness and leadership will be vital when the Lions have to go into the dark places to extract victory.
Warren Gatland (Gats) has gone with a backline with a bit of spice and nice about it. Liam Williams at fullback is certainly spicy; he had a good tour thus far besides his forgetful performance against the Blues .Make no mistake this Welsh operator is key to lighting up the Lions backline with his ability to run great angles, counter attacking and courage under the high ball especially in the wet. Anthony Watson brings electrifying pace and endeavour, safe under the high ball as wel,l one hopes he gets his hands on the ball to showcase his skills. Elliot Daly has embodied what Gatland has said all along in playing well and you will have a chance. Daly cemented his starting berth with an influential performance against the Chiefs; he has a nice balance about him when he runs with the ball, astute in defence and a magnificent boot in his arsenal. Outside centre Jonathan Davies brings experience and great support play, along with solid defence he combines well with Ben Teo in the middle of the park, the Auckland born inside centre is a big destructive direct runner with great footwork and a offload .The damp conditions will suit him as he leads the challenge to the All Blacks especially against the mercurial Sonny Bill Williams. The final but yet vital combination is Connor Murray and Owen Farrell. In some circles Murray has been vaunted as the best scrumhalf at the moment in the world with his precise box kicking and great delivery to the backline. He has an air of authority and control which will be vital to link up the forwards and backs. Farrell is highly respected in New Zealand, he is in my mind their general .The Saracens and England flyhalf has great control and aggression, at times may he be guilty of over exuberance. Consistence with the boot makes him valuable along with ability to pass releasing his runners. He is not afraid to tackle and will lead the charge on his father’s Andy (defence coach) rush defence. The substitute’s bench is littered with an array of firepower, Kyle Sinckler adding dynamism with his ball carrying although he must exercise good temperament. Ken Owens is good solid player and will give it his all when he comes on .Maro Itoje starts from the bench; he was unfortunate not to make the starting line-up. In my view being slightly impetuous at times in giving away unnecessary penalties has counted against him. However he is brilliant in lineout stealing effecting turnovers and taking the ball up. Jack McGrath is silent assassin with strong scrummaging skills and good ball skills he will definitely make his presence known when he comes on .Rhys Webb is a lovely sniping runner and will up the tempo of the game if need it be, I hope he will be able to fit his game to the Lions setup .Leigh Halfpenny provides you with safety and reliability and this what has seen him start off the bench as he does not have the attacking prowess of his Welsh counterpart Williams. Johnny Sexton is a talent to have on the bench as seems to be reclaiming his “mojo” he has great tactical kicking awareness as well the ability to get stuck into tackles and produce turovers. Injuries have hampered tour Captain Sam Warburton in making the start; I would actually stick my neck out and say he was fortunate to make the 23 as CJ Stander has been playing well. Sam brings great venture at the breakdown and should have an impact on the game. So the decision has been made, it’s a bold section full of verve. I have them to sneak a win by 6 points; General Gatland has shown real intent in wanting the Lions to devour the All Blacks.

 

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