No evidence Lions will cope with All Blacks' game

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    11 Mar 2017     Getty Images

The Guardian's Paul Rees said while England were unbeaten, this was in spite of being below strength and below their best.

"The championship has so far provided little evidence that the Lions will be equipped to take on New Zealand in a running game: the two try bonus points so far have been harvested against Italy, but as February gives way to March and the days draw out the final two rounds have tended to provide most of the illumination in recent years."

Rees noted that while Scotland had been the most audacious of the sides so far 'the clinical finishing that has been a feature of the New Zealand sides in the opening two rounds of Super Rugby has not been prevalent in the championship'.

"Eddie Jones has spent the tournament talking about finishers and his bench has delivered: replacements have scored three of their nine tries and provided impetus, but if the Lions start as slowly in New Zealand, the series will be little closer than it was in 2005.

"While the All Blacks scored 64 percent of their points against Wales in last summer's three-Test series after the break, the split was more even in the Rugby Championship.

"The All Blacks will not have played for seven months when the series starts, but the Lions will by then have faced what has become an unfamiliar assault in the warm-up matches with New Zealand releasing players to represent their Super Rugby franchise.

"In Australia four years ago, and South Africa in 2009, the opposition was largely below club standard, but this year they will be exposed to the style and standard of their Test opponents from the opening week."

The newspaper said no one in the Six Nations resembled the All Blacks in their style of play. England were equipped to counterattack, Scotland were innovative off first-phase ball while Ireland's strength was in the loose forwards where they applied pressure to cause mistakes while Wales lacked skills.

"The Six Nations, like the Rugby Championship, is a physically demanding tournament, but in a different way. Italy have conceded more than 30 points in each of their three matches, but no one else has. The All Blacks only one failed to reach 30 points in last year's Rugby Championship, and then they only missed by one."