DHL NZ Lions Series 2017: 5 Mouth-Watering Match-Ups

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Eddy Bramley     24 Mar 2017     Getty Images

Julian Savea vs George North

Two of the most destructive try-scorers in world rugby could line up against each other during the first Test in Auckland. The last time these two faced each other was during Wales’ visit to New Zealand in 2016 and, despite the All Blacks 3-0 series win, it was the Welshman who came out on top. An out of form Savea struggled against North in the first Test and was subsequently dropped for the second test in Wellington. 

Savea has enjoyed a much more impressive start to this year’s Investec Super Rugby season and will be eager to exact his revenge on the Welshman. North was again amongst the try scorers in the 6 Nations and impressed during a disappointing Welsh campaign. Both men are renowned for their big tackles as well as their tries so expect some big collisions!

Aaron Smith/TJ Perenara vs Connor Murray

Aaron Smith went in to the All Blacks clash with Ireland in Chicago as the number one halfback in the world, but put in a mixed showing in the end of year tour opener. Connor Murray however was outstanding and led Ireland to a famous win. The All Blacks got their revenge on Ireland two weeks later in Dublin, yet Smith was still unable to show real dominance over the Irishman. TJ Perenara showed real promise on the end of year tour and could push Smith for a starting jersey. Whoever does pull on the black nine jersey in June will be in for a big challenge. Murray boasts a gritty defensive game and reads the game well, which could cause Smith and Perenara problems, particularly if the Lions can match the All Blacks up front.

Dane Coles vs Dylan Hartley

Dane Coles has gone from strength to strength since he made his debut for the All Blacks in 2012. The Hurricanes hooker is a pillar in what is an almost indestructible All Blacks forward pack and he will be looking to continue his consistent form against the Lions. Dylan Hartley has enjoyed a hugely successful tenure since his appointment as England captain by Eddie Jones. Hartley has been instrumental in leading England to equal the All Blacks 18-match winning streak and is one of the favourites to be awarded the Lions captaincy. Both men are imposing in the front row but its Coles incredible pace that could set him apart from Hartley. Hartley, who was born in New Zealand, is known for his ill-discipline. Many will remember his flying forearm on Richie McCaw during the All Blacks win over England in 2010 and he missed out on the Lions tour of Australia for abusing a referee in the Aviva Premiership final.

Ben Smith vs Stuart Hogg
Ben Smith has had a rocky start to the year following a head clash during the Highlanders opening Super Rugby game against the Chiefs. The All Blacks vice-captain returned for the Highlanders against the Hurricanes last weekend and will no doubt be back to his best form by the time the Lions reach our shores. Smith is undoubtedly the number one fullback in world rugby but will face a tough test against a flying Stuart Hogg. Hogg has been key to Scotland’s recent rise in form and was outstanding in their 6 Nations wins over Ireland, Italy and Wales. Hogg is still only 24 and has youth on his side, but it could be Smith’s experience that sees him come out on top.

Kieran Read vs Billy Vunipola

The DHL New Zealand Lions series 2017 will be Kieran Read’s biggest test as All Blacks captain. Captaining the All Blacks during a Lions tour is a privilege few All Blacks captains get so Read will be eager to perform well. The lessons in leadership that Read will have learnt during his time as Richie McCaw’s understudy will be vital against what will be a solid Lions forward pack. At the base of that pack will be Billy Vunipola. Vunipola is a physically imposing, powerful unit. The 126-kilogram powerhouse had his 6 Nations campaign interrupted through injury and will want to show off his talent in New Zealand. Look out for Billy’s brother, Mako, to also feature in the Lions front row.