Lions 2017: New Zealand V Lions 3rd Test Prediction

All Blacks

We have ourselves a showdown. The expectation of most was that by the end of last Saturday’s second test, the British and Irish Lions would be dead and buried and this final test would offer no more than a chance to leave New Zealand with a modicum of respect.

However, Sonny Bill William’s red card left New Zealand’s best-laid plans in tatters and the Lions came away with a crucial victory to level the series. That said, the Lions certainly made damn hard work of it and at times seemed to be doing the best to confound the huge advantage gifted to them by the All Blacks centre’s moment of madness. 13 penalties and 39% possession will undermine even the most valiant of efforts.

Let’s focus on the positives first. A win. And a win against New Zealand is massive, no matter the circumstances. The Kiwis haven’t lost at home in nearly eight years, and even more impressive, have not been rendered try-less on New Zealand soil for 15 years.

The Lions defence was fantastic. The perceived wisdom was that with Ben Te’o withdrawn and the relatively untested, not to mention lightweight, combination of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell, the All Blacks’ big ball carriers would make inroads down the centre. Although they certainly made some yards, ultimately the defence creaked but didn’t break – partly thanks to some canny deployment of Sean O’Brien (my man-of-the-match) in the midfield. Across the two matches, the Lions defence has limited the All Blacks’ backs to an average of 3.7 clean breaks and 11.2 defenders beaten per game. They managed an average of 11 clean breaks and 17.4 defenders beaten in 2016.

Also I thought the back three did a sterling job given the horrendous weather. There were a few balls knocked on but in general their positioning was excellent and they managed to counter New Zealand’s dangerous kicking game. That Beauden Barrett and Aaron Cruden looked ineffective with that part of their game was as much down to Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly’s work off the ball, as some miscued kicks.

Then when the rare attacking opportunities came, the Lions were clinical. Alongside ‘discipline’, ‘clinical’ had become the frustrated buzzword of Lions supporters post-match. Not this time – two opportunities, two tries. The combo of Sexton and Farrell showed its value in those scores, the two flyhalves’ varied passing game and vision exploited the rare half-chances when they came around and were integral to victory.

Now the negatives. This was 15 v 14 for much of the match and when a red card is shown that early, the expectation is the full team will walk away victorious. We know that is not always the case, and when the team is New Zealand, it is still a huge mountain to climb, however, what disappointed me is the Lions took their foot off the gas for a while. Did they suddenly assume it was an inevitability they would win as 15 must beat 14? When victory didn’t come as quickly as expected I felt a degree of panic set in; that period in the second half (led by Mako Vunipola seemingly losing the plot) when they conceded four penalties was panicked rugby at its most infuriating. It really needed a cool head to grab the players together and bring some structure to the game – it was a moment for leaders like Sexton, Farrell and the captain Warburton to earn their keep.

We also have to mention Barrett’s off day with the kicking – three eminently kickable penalties wasted. Now, Barrett is not a world-class kicker; it is a sacrifice New Zealand have made for his supreme talent with the ball in hand, and cannot be an ‘excuse’ for the loss – it is a tactical decision they have made, and he will sometimes leave kicking points on the field. However, I certainly wouldn’t bet on it happening two weeks in a row. The Lions have seemingly sorted the ‘clinical’ problem. Now they need to sort the discipline problem. Otherwise there won’t be a game to win in the final five minutes.

The two team sheets for this Saturday are both surprising. Firstly, with the Lions, it is because Warren Gatland has named an unchanged squad (the first time for a Lions test team since 1993). Popular wisdom suggested Vunipola should be demoted for his reckless disregard for the referee’s whistle, while Alun Wyn Jones (although much improved) was still not as good as Courtney Lawes. Gatland has ignored all that and stuck to his guns. With reflection I think it is the right call – continuity will reinforce the confidence earned by the win, while they will cast an eye over at the New Zealand team selection and think ‘we have got them worried’.

That is because Steve Hansen has gone with some curve-ball selections. Ngani Laumape may not be particularly surprising as he did well when replacing Sonny Bill Williams, but he is still raw and can be guilty of defensive mistakes. The Lions will look to exploit that and I thought they would reunite the more experienced combo of Anton Lienert-Brown and Malakai Fekitoa.

The Kiwi back three is a different matter. Israel Dagg continues his yo-yoing between fullback and wing as he returns to the 14 shirt, while the formidable ‘bus’ Julian Savea returns on the left wing. However, the man with the best strike rate in international rugby has hardly been in sparkling form recently so it is a surprise to see Rieko Ioane dropped for him.

The biggest shock is at fullback, with a third Barrett brother, Jordie, getting his first test start. What a time to be parachuted into the starting line-up – on the back of a incredibly rare loss on home soil, the fans baying for blood and facing the best of the northern hemisphere. Barrett has shown in Super Rugby that he can be a deadly player – but this will be another level for him. Expect the Lions to welcome him with an aggressive kicking game; this not a day for nerves in your fullback.

So prediction time. Can the Lions do it again and win the series, a first in New Zealand since 1971? If they are, and it is the biggest of ‘ifs’, they need to sort out their discipline. No more excuses – they cannot rely on a red card and Barrett packing his slippers instead of his kicking boots to give them a chance, they have to take it for themselves.

But there are plenty of reasons to believe – a defence that suffocated the life out of New Zealand, a pack that finally woke up and dictated play at the breakdown, New Zealand putting an international rookie in the 15 shirt when it supposed to rain cats and dogs, while in Sexton and Farrell an emergence of a genuine clinical attacking platform. Also traditionally, Lions teams tend to finish strong: South Africa in 2009, Australia in 2013… the Lions, being a scratch team, can take a while to click, but that ‘click’ has tended to come in the third test.

I pretty much nailed my colours to the mast last week with my prediction, no changing them now. Another tense and supremely physical match won in the most thrilling of fashions.

My prediction: Lions by 3.

Average Superbru prediction: New Zealand by 9.54 (NZ 85%, Lions 15%)

By Henry Ker

14 thoughts on “Lions 2017: New Zealand V Lions 3rd Test Prediction

  1. Of course you have to say that as a Lions supporter however the NZ response will be massive and 15 on 15 will be a huge difference.
    NZ by 15+

  2. Target the youngest Barrett at full back first, test him out with a couple of big bombs and put him straight under pressure.

    The Lions need to improve discipline and leave nothing in the dressing room, heart says Lions by 1-4, head New Zealand by 7.

  3. I do strongly believe that the Lions are capable of winning this last test but have concerns over the conclusion of and starting with Vunipola. I believe that it will be the use, or mis-use of the bench that will determine the final outcome. Benched used and we will see a Lions win, if not used like last Saturday, then a AB victory. Either way no more than 8 points.

  4. Wow ! what a game in prospect. Discipline will be the key to a Lions win, if they give away 13 penalties ( 10 kickable ) like last week they needn’t bother turning up ! the scrum HAS to at least match the AB’s unlike last week where they seemed to struggle. Itoje has to reel in his enthusiasm, although an outstanding player he has a knack of giving away daft unnecessary penalties, I would think the training team has been drilling that into him this week.
    A lot has been made of the red card last week, and rightly so, but most pundits would agree that the Lions actually were on top for the 1st 20 mins or so and that the RC seemed to affect the Lions more than the AB’s ! read what you like into that .
    SBW is of course a big loss to the AB’s and although Laumape is a big lump & takes some stopping he does not have the offloading game of SBW, he also is prone to defensive errors in positioning, maybe a weakness for the Lions to exploit ?.
    The ‘finishers’ will be paramount, if the Lions have parity at 55/60 mins I can see them upping their game to match the reknowned staying power of the AB’s !.
    One last word, expect a monster performance from AWJ in the 55mins or so he will play, he knows this is the last time he will wear the coveted jersey and will give 110 %. What a fitting tribute it would be to a man who has done so much for British rugby to finish is Lions career with a test win over the AB’s !.
    Prediction : Lions by 5 ( fingers & toes crossed ).

  5. Either:
    1) The ABs blow us apart in the first quarter, grow in confidence, play without pressure for the rest of the match and put 30-40 on us or …

    2) We stay with them in the first 20. The match is close and tense. The fans make Eden Park feel like an away fixture for the ABs and we edge a close game by 3 points.

    Fingers crossed for the second scenario.

  6. I ridiculed the op last week when he picked lions by 1. And I could no way see that happening. Lions were very very very lucky but anyway I hold my hands up and apologise.

    Anyway, im not going to predict but no one wins at Eden Park. I think there will be lots of tries. I think it will be a very open game. 6-7 tries.

  7. Prevention is better than cure,.. if Gats rings the changes @ 55min and we are within 7/8pts, a Lions win by 1-2 pts, if {as i predict} he sticks to his guns until 65-70 mins it will be to late and ABs win by 15-20

  8. I can see us winning this. The pressure on the AB’s is massive. We have a circle of influence, that excludes the AB’s plan of attack but includes are own ability to stifle, suffocate and squeeze there approach and options. Are ability to score tries against this team is in stone. Rest assured if we are in this game with 20mins to go, they will never have had as much pressure on them as this before. Game on.

  9. The Lions won the second test because 1. the ABs were down to 14, 2. Barrett missed three sitters and 3. the weather blunted the AB offloading game (hence no tries). Now, it might be argued that 1. SBW has no excuses, 2. neither does Barrett and 3. the Lions played the conditions better. I fear that these 3 won’t align again. NZ looked more like scoring with 14 when the rain let up than we did (compare the tackle count). ABs by 15 (though I wish it were otherwise).

  10. Boys, can we please start talking it up. You get what you manifest. I know all about realism and conjecture ( both subjective ) but if we don’t talk THIS one up, which final test are we going to be positive about. There’s one game left, lets get into a positive outcome mindset not a “its probably going to go this way ” probability mindset.
    If enough of us think its going to happen, it’s going to happen. Lets stop being scared of the outcome, it’s a game of rugby. Lets get behind the Lions.

    1. This is our predictions not what we hope for , i’m sure every Celt & Englishman will be roarin for a lions win,…no need to bull it up ,…i don’t get up @ 7;30 for work !,… im sure we all know we can,..the question is will we ?,….I can only say we can , maybe !.
      If you watch super rugby you prob know more about the AB changes than i do, & some others , you may have the philosophy of let them worry about us cos we ain’t changing which seems to be Gats thinking also subjective right ?, I always think Wales will win , it’s like a built in belief for every Welshman over the age of 55 , unfortunately I was too young to bet when we were the kiddies and I now live in a cardboard box!

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