Can the Lions beat the All Blacks in New Zealand?
With less than 40 days until the British and Irish Lions take on New Zealand in the first Test match of this summer’s tour in Auckland, head coach Warren Gatland will be satisfied with his 41-man provisional squad.
The hard work starts now but Gatland, who relinquished his duties as Wales boss to focus on building this Lions side, will be quietly confident of at least causing a few issues for New Zealand throughout the summer.
On paper, this Lions side has potential but beating the All Blacks on home soil could prove to be a step too far. Gatland’s decision to overlook key personalities, mainly England captain Dylan Hartley and fly-half George Ford, could come back to haunt him this summer with the Kiwis the stronger bet for a series win.
Even the Gray brothers, both of whom were integral to Scotland’s much improved effort in this year’s Six Nations, missed the cut – and many have criticised Gatland for selecting 12 Wales players for the tour.
While you could argue that there really isn’t much to split a few, eyebrows were raised at the inclusion of 12 Welshmen. Rob Howley’s Wales finished fifth in the Six Nations, losing to both Scotland and England.
Only two Scots, Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour, made the cut and some have suggested that a lack of Scottish coaches on the Lions roster may have hurt those who were in the discussion for a spot on the plane. But it is what it is; every fan must now unite and support the British and Irish Lions.
The Lions are blessed with an abundance of talent in all areas of the field but their second row could be the difference in New Zealand. With the likes of Alun Wyn Jones and Courtney Lawes in the side, Gatland will be confident of consistency, reliability and passion in one of the most important positions on the pitch.
Meanwhile, the versatile Maro Itoje and solid Irishman Iain Henderson can come into the side when required – you know what you’re getting with both players. If you’re going to go into New Zealand with serious hopes of winning the series, you need a strong second row and Gatland has got his selection spot on in this area.
You could claim that the Lions are fairly weak on the wing and there is an obvious lack of experience when you look into it. Of the six players selected, only George North has played for the Lions before and only Seymour is older than 26. The likes of Jack Nowell and Anthony Watson are decent players but are they capable of starring for the Lions? Only time will tell.
The first Test of the series is massive and a Lions victory could set the tone for a successful summer. Remember when Eddie Jones’ England laid down a marker when touring Australia last year? That is exactly what Gatland’s men must do in Auckland. Beating New Zealand in the opener is crucial. They rarely lose once, let alone twice in a row.
Should the Lions win the opening fixture, all of the pressure will be on the All Blacks to bounce back and respond. New Zealand are talented enough but the Lions will be buoyed by passion and determination to succeed and effort and commitment often outweighs natural skill.
It would be foolish to rule out a Lions victory but, as with most tours, they will need luck on their side to come away with a series win. The bookmakers are making New Zealand heavy favourites and rightly so but Gatland will have his troops ready for a titanic month of rugby and fans will have everything crossed for a successful tour.