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Jim Kayes

Jim Kayes has been covering rugby since the late 1990s across print/online, radio and television with The Dominion Post, Stuff.co.nz, TV3 and Newshub, Radio Live and Radio Sport.  He's been to five World Cups, covered almost 200 All Blacks Tests and was on safari with the Lions when the British and Irish side last toured New Zealand, in 2005.

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Jim Kayes: It’s game on for the Test series

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Jim Kayes     17 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Both sides will arrive at Eden Park with confidence building wins behind them.
Forget what might happen in Hamilton on Tuesday night. That won’t be the Lions test team that takes on the Chiefs and while a loss would be another chink in some of the Lions players’ reputation, it will have no impact on the test.

QUICK TAP: LIONS SCRUM THE LIFE OUT OF THE ALL BLACKS

It is easy to predict how both sides will try to play at Eden Park, but for the All Blacks it is wrong to suggest they are simply an attacking team.

Yes, of course they are fantastic with the ball - their 12 tries against Samoa in the warm up test in Auckland showed that. The skills and off loads were just amazing that night with the seamless mix of forwards and backs on attack something to behold.

But the All Blacks defence is very good too. In their last 20 tests they’ve conceded an average of 14 points per game with a winning score of 42-14. Six times they’ve kept the opposition to under 10 points and only four times have they conceded more than 20.

Breaking down that defence will be a real challenge for the Lions and one they are expected to do in a simple, but potentially effective way, as we saw in Rotorua.

Scrum well, keep it tight, smash the ball up, try and punch holes in close. Some call it Warren-ball - though not often to Gatland’s face these days.

Who cares what it’s called, if it works, it works. The Lions don’t have to play like the All Blacks - heck, the All Blacks haven’t always played like these All Blacks.

The Lions have to play to their strengths which is the set piece, driving play and big midfielders who will bring the ball back in close.
Their likely test game-plan was effective against the Crusaders last week and New Zealand Maori in tricky conditions in Rotorua.

Their penalty try from a scrum was deserved and was the first time on tour the Lions have been able to use the scrum as a weapon.

It was an impressive performance by the pack in general and tour skipper Sam Warburton must be at long odds to crack the eight for the test ahead of Sean O’Brien and Peter Mahony, just as Alun Wyn Jones is in a tussle with Maro Itoje for one of the lock’s jerseys.

The Crusaders and Maori were two big wins for the Lions. They were punctuated by the losses to the Blues and Highlanders but those two games, like the Chiefs match, are largely immaterial to what might happen in the tests.

Immaterial except in telling Lions coach Warren Gatland who he doesn’t want in his test 23.

Soon after the tour kicked off Gatland chipped former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry about how quickly he divided his 2001 Lions squad into the test and midweek teams.

It took Gatland about a week in New Zealand to do exactly the same and now he’s brought in more players to make it easier to keep his test squad from having to play either the Chiefs or the Hurricanes.

Gatland has made it clear from the day the Lions landed in New Zealand that he was here to win the tests.

“ What I learnt in 2013 is ‘who remembers the midweek games, who remembers the other games?’” Gatland said in the arrivals hall at Auckland Airport.

“If we drop a game or two on the way as we are looking at combinations or trying things out, it’s not going to be the end of the world. It’s all about preparing (for) and winning the tests.”

He’s stayed true to that and now the first test is superbly set up. A clash of style for sure, and a mouthwatering one too.