Zinzan Brooke

Brooke played for the All Blacks between 1987 and 1997, playing 58 tests and 42 matches. Across the 100 matches, Brooke scored 195 points, made up of 42 tries and three drop goals. He is considered one of the best number eights to have ever played for the All Blacks with running and kicking skills of a back along with the strength and mobility of a great loose forward.

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Zinzan Brooke: The Lions No.8 options

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Zinzan Brooke     10 May 2017     Getty Images

Before we get into it though, I just hope Kieran will be OK for the series. His expected recovery time from a thumb injury is six weeks, so all going well we should see him leading the All Blacks against the Lions in the first Test. Watching him recently he’s turning into another Sean Fitzpatrick – a bit of a poacher, but a great leader. 


He’s done well and the captaincy sits on his shoulders because he commands respect and leads from the front. Where do you start with his skill set – a superb lineout game, good at the base of the scrum, good carries, and his offloading is very good in open play. Add in the way he plays off the deck, and he’s a pretty complete player. He was ahead of the Lions players before his injury, only time will tell if he can get back to that form before the tour.

First up, England No.8 Billy Vunipola. He’s had a solid Six Nations, but the Irish did snuff him out. Here’s the thing about Billy – you can gang tackle him because he’s not usually the first runner. Don’t get me wrong, when he gets it right he’s a hard guy to stop, but he needs other guys to slot in so he can play that second runner position. It’s fair to say he’s the frontline contender at this stage.

Ireland’s CJ Stander is another contender. He’s someone who I think looks quite comfortable at the bottom of the scrum, even though he usually plays some of his better rugby at flanker. There are a number of other contenders – other guys like Maro Itoje, Justin Tiperall for example – who are all good runners. But Stander is someone who I think can do a pretty good job at No.8 especially at scrum time.

You’ve also got Ross Moriarty, even though like CJ Stander he plays more of his rugby as a flanker. He definitely has the physical attributes to perform at the back of the scrum even though 2017 is only his third season at international level. Can he step up and force himself into the equation for the All Blacks matches? We’ll have to wait and see but he’s a definite candidate.

Sean O’Brien is another option and is packed with experience. He’s captained Ireland in the past, played in two Rugby World Cups and already has Lions experience with the 2013 team. He’s a good shout at No.8, but he’s only just coming back from a hamstring injury for Leinster, so we’ll have to watch how he performs.

Then there’s Welshman Taulupe Faletau, someone who I’ve already spoken about at length in a previous column. Let’s just say I can definitely see him as a No.8 in the midweek games, but I can’t see him getting a starting spot in the Tests unless there are injuries

It’s going to be a fascinating battle, but here’s hoping Read comes back fighting fit, and shows the skillset that makes him one of the most complete forwards in the game.