The British and Irish Lions have arrived in New Zealand, and after such an exciting build-up to rugby’s greatest Test series, the time for talk is almost over. In the wake of the Lions’ unimpressive first-up win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on Saturday, some overarching questions remain as the tour picks up steam.
Let’s have a look at some key talking points:
Does Jordie Barrett Plays Against Samoa If Selected In All Blacks Squad?
If selected for the All Blacks, youngster Jordie Barrett will likely be given his first appearance at Test level during the Pacifica Challenge at Eden Park. A warm-up match of sorts where Samoa is the opponent, including Barrett would give Steve Hansen and co a good idea as to whether the 20-year-old is ready for rugby at the highest level in a relatively relaxed style of game. The match is eight days out from the first Test against the Lions and Barrett would have been training with the squad for well over a week by that time, under the eye of coaches and selectors alike.
It’s well worth selecting him as a starter for the Samoan clash, for a multitude of reasons. The likes of Ben Smith and Israel Dagg, the two veteran fullbacks, can be relied on to perform in the bigger matches without any minutes under their belt. Take the risk with Barrett if you select him in the squad to begin with.
How Do The Lions Manage Injuries During Tour?
In a nutshell, managing injuries will be almost impossible for Lions management during the tour.
Every game on tour will be a far greater physical contest than a lot of the Lions players will be used to. Warren Gatland has picked a strong forward unit to attempt to match not just the All Blacks, but the five Super Rugby packs as well. Outside of the usual suspects in the All Blacks line-up, the Lions will come up against the likes of Loni Uhila (Hurricanes), Nepo Laulala (Chiefs), and Daniel Lienert-Brown (Highlanders) in the warm-up games.
Dealing with the physical toll of these encounters has had many pundits speculating since the tour schedule was first announced. The matchup against the Maori All Blacks – just a week out from the first Test – will be Gatland’s last chance to field his best playing XV. Given some of the potential combinations that the Lions have, they’ll need game time together to nut out the minor details, but risking injury can’t be a stopper for Gatland.
Can Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell Co-Exist?
Speaking of combinations, the likely pairing of Irish flyhalf Johnny Sexton and Englishman Owen Farrell promises to be one of the major talking points of the tour. Word out of the UK is that both men bring very big personalities with them, and both want the starting No.10 role for the Test matches.
Farrell has spoken a lot in the English media about “everything being out the team”, while Sexton is fresh off being involved in a victorious Ireland team who beat the All Blacks for the first time ever last November. On top of that, Sexton’s Ireland beat England in the final game of the Six Nations and stopped a Grand Slam and record-equalling feat. Neither of these men have forgotten those results, and they’ll have to put past rivalry (and apprehension) behind them. Sexton’s subpar game against the Barbarians has already ramped up talk he may be ousted by Farrell.
Owen Farrell has edged ahead of Johnny Sexton in the race to be the Lions’ Test fly-half, says @JeremyGuscott
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) 3 June 2017
What Will Victory Mean For All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen?
Steve Hansen could cement his legacy as arguably the greatest coach of all time if the All Blacks can beat the Lions in this series. Hansen has been a part of back-to-back Rugby World Cup wins, including as head coach in 2015, as well as being at the helm when the All Blacks broke the consecutive wins record in 2016. What more could Hansen have to achieve but a Lions series victory?
Are Steve Hansen and Warren Gatland cut from the same cloth?
Ex All Blacks lock Ian Jones says they are.
— BBC Rugby Union (@bbcrugbyunion) 5 June 2017
Will The New Zealand Super Rugby Sides Be Able To Topple The Lions?
Since it was announced that the five Super Rugby sides would all be playing the Lions, conjecture began about whether or not All Blacks players would be eligible to compete. In 2005, all the players selected in Graham Henry’s squad were isolated from any rugby prior to the Test series.
The depth of all the Super Rugby sides, from the Blues all the way to the Highlanders, suggests that not only will they be competitive, but have a high chance of beating the Lions. It also provides an opportunity for those wanting to put their hands up for higher honours a chance to seriously stake their claim in front of a worldwide audience.
British Lions shall play all 5 NZ Super Rugby teams & then the #AllBlacks,
It shall be like getting chowed by all 5 lions & then Voltron ✊😌
— Manyame Ocean ✊🌊 (@The_Mos_Native) 8 April 2017