That’s more like it. A very promising win over the New Zealand Maori for the Lions on Saturday – their defence and set piece were particularly pleasing, keeping the Maori to a meagre 10 points. To negate running threats like Rieko Ioane and Nehe Milner-Skudder so completely was great to see, especially when you remember how Ioane tortured the Lions backline only a couple of weeks ago.
Following that game, Gatland will be pretty sure of probably at least 13 of his 15 starters, so it will be interesting to see how the midweek side responds, given that their chance to feature in the tests has been severely reduced.
George North is one of those not to have cemented his place yet, although you’d expect Gatland to back him for the tests. That means Liam Williams and Elliot Daly still have an outside chance of a starting test spot, and certainly a bench spot up for grabs. They will be looking to put in big performances.
In the pack, the props and locks will also be looking to steal a place on the bench. Lawes has looked great prior to his head injury, while Henderson has grown into the tour. Alun Wyn Jones is still a way of his best and late showing from the midweek locks could leapfrog them into the test 23.
The big story though of course are among the replacements – all six of the late additions to the Lions tour, Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill, Gareth Davies, Allan Dell and Finn Russell, make the bench. While Russell and Davies’ places are certainly justifiable – Dacey, Francis, Dell and Hill are a long way off deserving the call-up on merit alone. I have to be honest using geography as an excuse is a poor justification for a Lions call up. This is nothing against the players themselves, and a huge congratulations to them, but as Gatland knew he needed to strengthen certain areas he should have made the call earlier and on justifiable form.
It would have been a shame to lose guys like Joe Launchbury or Dylan Hartley from the second Argentina test, but the Lions are supposed to represent the best of the best. This undermines that concept.
Anyway. Back to the Chiefs game. The Chiefs themselves are fielding a slightly inexperienced side, albeit one led by Stephen Donald (him of the World Cup-winning penalty in 2011). A few players were not considered because they just turned out for the Maori or are linking up with the All Blacks, although Liam Messam makes the bench and Nanai-Williams features after playing for Samoa against New Zealand at the weekend.
This is probably one of the weaker selections by the Super Rugby sides, but I really hope the Lions do not underestimate them. As I mentioned, it will be interesting how the Lions respond now that the majority know a test appearance is now unlikely. However, they know the importance of their game to maintain the good feeling around the tour earnt by that strong victory over the Maori. With a bit of renewed confidence instilled and a weakened opposition, I am backing the midweek side to finally pick up a victory.
My prediction: Lions by 12
Average Superbru prediction: Lions by 1.07 (Chiefs 47%, Lions 53%)
What is your prediction for the match?
By Henry Ker