PREVIEW: All Blacks v British & Irish Lions

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Lynn McConnell     22 Jun 2017     Getty Images

New Zealand v British & Irish Lions, Eden Park, Auckland, 24 June 2017, 7.35pm

Since the onset of tours by the British & Irish Lions to New Zealand, the sides have met 34 times in nine series with the All Blacks winning 26 Tests and eight of the nine series. Since the 2005 series in New Zealand which the All Blacks won 3-0, the Lions have lost a series in 2009 with South Africa 1-2 while beating Australia 2-1 in 2013. In preparing for the series, the All Blacks' 78-0 win over Samoa saw them become the first side to reach 15,000 points in Test rugby. France is second on 13,450 points. First five-eighths Beauden Barrett, on 321, is two points short of becoming the fourth highest Test scorer for New Zealand while tighthead prop Owen Franks will join Sean Fitzpatrick on 92 Tests. The All Blacks go into the game with 494 Tests among their pack while the Lions have 371 Tests, 116 of them played by Alun Wyn Jones. Hooker Jamie George will be making his first Test start after 17 appearances off the bench.
Both sides caused surprise with their wing choices – the Lions going without George North, who has struggled to make an impression on tour and the All Blacks opting for the undoubted talents of Rieko Ioane ahead of Julian Savea. While there was little doubt Israel Dagg would be chosen, offering back-up cover for fullback the choice of Ioane is a significant change in direction for the All Blacks. There's no room for Waisake Naholo in the squad of 23. The Lions have looked to Elliot Daly to mark Dagg. He demonstrated his speed in the win over the Chiefs in setting up the most spectacular try the Lions have scored on tour. His ability in coping with the high ball will have him up against an aerial performer in Dagg. On the opposite side of the field Ioane will mark Anthony Watson, a potentially elusive runner, who with his fullback experience can also be expected to be good in the air.

The inhabitants of the respective front rows will be at the sharp end of this contest and there are some intriguing match-ups. Ninety-one Test capped Owen Franks against Mako Vunipola, who has played half that number of Tests, and most of them off the bench. Then there is Joe Moody against Tadgh Furlong in a repetition of their two contests last year when the All Blacks met Ireland. The two hookers, Codie Taylor and Jamie George, are of similar experience and destined for long careers. It promises to be a stimulating contest which is likely to determine the eventual outcome of the Test.


New Zealand: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Brodie Retallick, 5.Samuel Whitelock, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Sam Cane, 8.Kieran Read (captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Beauden Barrett, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.Sonny Bill Williams, 13.Ryan Crotty, 14.Israel Dagg, 15.Ben Smith.

Substitutes: 16.Nathan Harris, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Charlie Faumuina, 19.Scott Barrett, 20.Ardie Savea, 21.TJ Perenara, 22.Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, 23.Anton Lienert-Brown.

British & Irish Lions: 1.Mako Vunipola, 2.Jamie George, 3.Tadhg Furlong, 4.Alun Wyn Jones, 5.George Kruis, 6.Peter O'Mahony (captain), 7.Sean O'Brien, 8.Taulupe Faletau, 9.Conor Murray, 10.Owen Farrell, 11.Elliot Daly, 12.Ben Te'o, 13.Jonathan Davies, 14.Anthony Watson, 15.Liam Williams.

Substitutes: 16.Ken Owens, 17.Jack McGrath, 18.Kyle Sinckler, 19.Maro Itoje, 20.Sam Warburton, 21.Rhys Webb, 22.Johnny Sexton, 23.Leigh Halfpenny.