The Roar
The Roar


All Blacks vs Lions: Contrasting styles, but now it's time for substance to matter

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Roar Guru
22nd June, 2017
1005 Reads

I can’t remember being this excited since the time I discovered my local Sydney supermarket had a Kiwi lollies section.

The rugby world has been waiting a long time for this.

The 12-yearly fixture promises to be a classic on all fronts, not least the clash of styles.

Despite Lions coach Warren Gatland’s assertion yesterday there’s little difference between how his team and the All Blacks play the game – “a lot of people have speculated about the contrasting styles but I think we’ve played some lovely rugby,” he said while insisting he wants to attack the All Blacks – there’s no secret to what the Lions will come with.

Immense breakdown physicality and immaculate set piece.

The best box kicking halfback in the world.

A playmaker who will seek field position before unleashing runners at close quarters, and kick every point on offer. And blistering line speed.

For their part the ABs pack will be confident of achieving more than parity up front – especially against a shorter lineout and a scrum that has yet to really churn turf.


From there they will look to stretch and stress the Lions. To capitalise on every attacking opportunity they conjure or are handed by a team that will go to the air often.

They will mix it up to break down the red wall. Sonny Bill, sometimes taking 25m bullets directly from Aaron Smith, and Ryan Crotty, will interest defenders with big attempts to poke holes in the close and midfield channels.

Beauden Barrett will draw them wide with wrapping plays and kick passes, all the while looking for any chance to take on the line and explode through the merest hint of a gap.

Beauden Barrett All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union Test Championship 2016

(AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

As the game wears on they will look to capitalise on broken play with Ben Smith and his wing commanders sniffing jagged lines of opportunity to set off on their trademark counters.

There’s two big questions the Lions pose. First, are they good enough to stamp their will and exert a choke hold over the All Blacks for big minutes a la their wins over the Crusaders and Maori?

Enough of a choke to stifle the momentum – so crucial to the AB game – and ultimately their attack and ability to score?


If that answer is ‘yes’ then the second question is: can they do it for long enough to actually curb, corral and beat the All Blacks?

Are they good enough to quell the most rampant team on the planet on the one hand and then make everything stick to turn limited opportunities into enough points on the other?

Certainly Gatland has filled his backline with as many genuine attacking threats as he can muster. Electing to go with Owen Farrell at 10 and Ben Te’o at 12 rather than the two playmaker option of Johnny Sexton inside Farrell suggests he’s paying more than lip service to his stated intent of taking the All Blacks on at their own game.

Further proof is starting Liam Williams at fullback, a swerving, weaving runner with an eye for the gap who asks more with ball in hand than his countryman Leigh Halfpenny.

Although Williams will have needed to sharpen his aerial skills up somewhat from his clumsy display on his last Eden Park outing against the Blues.

Both coaches have made big calls in their starting 15s – Gatland demoting his tour captain Sam Warburton to the bench and Hansen plumping for novice excitement machine Rieko Ioane for his first Test start in place of proven match winner Julian Savea on the left wing.


(AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)


The former was largely telegraphed, the latter wasn’t.

Hansen was clearly impressed by Ioane’s big effort against the Lions in the Blues’ 22-16 victory in tour match two and is willing to write off his quiet performance for the Maori in their 32-10 defeat last Saturday as the aberration it was.

“His outstanding form throughout the season, including against the Lions, has earned him his start,” Hansen said.

Throughout his tenure the AB coach has made a canny knack of getting these highly calculated selection gambles right with Dane Coles, Aaron Smith and Anton Lienert-Brown all surprises when first picked but going on to do pretty well in the black jumper.

Both coaches making the hard selection calls is further testament, as if any was needed, of just how enormous the stakes are in the opening Test.

The Lions have built beautifully on this tour. Scratchy win against a scratchy team to begin with, then strangulating victories on the two following Saturdays against big teams.

The mid-weekers got their act together on Tuesday with a compelling defeat of the Chiefs – albeit a severely depleted version of the Super side, following two narrow losses to the Blues and Highlanders.


And the All Blacks had a pretty decent dress rehearsal last Friday against Manu Samoa. Once they’d coped with a ferocious opening 30 minutes the men in black shifted rapidly through the gears to go into overdrive for a breath taking 78-0 win, the coaches no doubt happier with the 0 than the 78.

It’s now all so exquisitely poised as we await the curtain to go up on the big dance.

And my biggest test? Convincing my five-year-old twins that its bed time about 5.20pm AEST on Saturday.

All Blacks by 11.