media

Big questions

Losing to the weakest of New Zealand’s five Super Rugby franchises with the rest all still to come has left the success of the tour hanging in the balance.

Particularly when it is the best of the bunch, the undefeated Crusaders, that are up next.

The Lions are running out of reasons to feel optimistic, with serious concerns about both their discipline and approach, after conceding 13 penalties and making just four offloads against the Blues.

Yet while the tourists clearly don’t have the strength in depth at their disposal as many initially thought, they do at least still have one last ace up their sleeve.

Nine of their team for Saturday were on the victorious tour to Australia four years ago, while a total of 10 are in our current predicted Test XV (see below).

Given four of those are making their first appearance of the tour and seven more their first starts, Warren Gatland can justifiably claim to have not yet shown his strongest hand.

The question is, can his big guns prove they have the game to pose more of a threat in the Test series than their understudies have so far?

Ones to watch

It’s time for Jamie George to justify our faith in him.

Ken Owens was solid if unspectacular against the Blues, while Rory Best has probably thrown himself out of Test contention with a botched last-minute line-out on the five-metre line.

George showed just how much impact he can have in the loose on England’s tour to Australia last summer and, with a head start on the others when it comes to line-out duties, that Test shirt is his for the taking.

media

Many assumed that Owen Farrell would line up at inside centre when the Tests came around in order to accommodate Johnny Sexton.

But Gatland’s insistence that he sees him as a 10 – as well as the Irishman’s unconvincing performances thus far – means that he now looks a shoo-in to start at fly-half.

Now is the time to show it.

Liam Williams, meanwhile, did himself no favours when getting sin-binned for a second tackle in mid-air in the space of 10 minutes after coming off the bench on Tuesday.

The Welshman isn’t being deployed in his favoured position of full-back on Saturday, but he still has the chance to prove from the wing that he deserves a spot in the back three.

Top tips

Crusaders to win by 1-10 points –

With a perfect record in club rugby’s toughest competition this season, the Crusaders are rightful favourites.

All six of their wins against the five teams below them have been by nine points or fewer, though, so expect a similar margin against a competitive Lions side.

Total points over 47.5 –

Only four of the Crusaders’ 14 games this season have seen fewer points than the benchmark for this game.

Two of those came at the very start of the campaign and another only fell half a point short last weekend.

With so much quality on the pitch, the scoreboard should see plenty of action.

Crusaders to score over 24.5 points –

This one explains itself based on the two tips above.

If the Crusaders are likely to win a relatively high-scoring game, logic dictates they will hit a minimum of 25 points.

Crusaders to score first try –

The Lions have conceded the first try in both of their tour matches so far.

Against stronger opposition and with a new team playing together for the first time, it’s fair to assume that they’ll do so again.

Anthony Watson to score any time –

The England winger has scored 12 tries in his last 18 Tests and wasted no time in finding his scoring touch on his Lions debut last weekend.

With arguably the tourists’ best back line possible providing the service, he’s excellent value to make it two from two off the bench.

How is the Test team shaping up?

media

Unfortunately, it is players failing to impress when given opportunities that is the biggest cause of selection headaches at the moment.

Maro Itoje was one of the few to stand out in midweek, so he could well partner whoever stands tallest of the two second rows on Saturday.

Robbie Henshaw did little wrong against the Blues, but Ben Te’o clearly boasts more sleight of hand and foot.

As for the back three, those selected above are probably Gatland’s preferred combination, though it is anyone’s guess at the moment.