With the DHL NZ Lions Series 2017 just a matter of months away, we take a look at ten reasons why rugby fans should be counting down the days until June.
If there’s one thing to look forward to about a Lions series it’s the wave of British and Irish Lions fans that will sweep our shores. Whether it’s in the bars and restaurants across the country, at the stadium on game day or travelling through our towns in campervans, you won’t have to look far for a bit of Northern atmosphere!
BEAUDEN BARRETT’S RECKONING
The 2005 Lions series belonged to Dan Carter. In what many describe as the most complete performance by a first five-eighth, Carter ran the Lions ragged during the second Test in Wellington. Scoring two tries and setting up another Carter stamped his mark as the best player in the game. Come June it will be Beauden Barrett’s time to shine. Barrett had a breakthrough year in 2016 and a similarly dominant performance in the Test matches should confirm his ranking as the world’s best.
READ’S BIGGEST TEST
The heir to Richie McCaw will be faced with his biggest test as All Blacks captain when the Lions arrive. Kieran Read has already proven his ability to lead and his decision-making and calmness under pressure will be vital to the All Blacks coming out victorious.
If there’s one question Steve Hansen hasn’t answered since the 2015 Rugby World Cup it’s the question of the midfield. Ma’a Nonu and Conrad Smith’s retirement from international rugby left an obvious hole in the middle of the park. Many players have been tried in the twelve and thirteen jerseys but a solid combination has yet to be forged. The obvious choice would be Malakai Fekitoa partnering the returning Sonny Bill Williams, but the likes of Anton Lienart-Brown, Ryan Crotty and George Moala may have something to say about that when the Lions arrive.
BATTLE OF THE BENCHES
A key to both the All Blacks and England’s recent success has been their use of the bench. International rugby has become more and more of a twenty-three man game and the way both sides utilise their reserves could dictate who comes out on top.
THE RETURN OF NMS
The last time Nehe Milner-Skudder was seen in an All Blacks jersey he was diving across the try line in the 2015 Rugby World Cup final against Australia. Milner-Skudder enjoyed a meteoric rise in 2015 but injury kept him out of the All Blacks fold in 2016. We could well see Milner-Skudder darting over for a few more tries come the Lions Test matches.
YOUNG STARS COMING OF AGE
Not many stages come bigger than a Lions series to prove your worth. This year’s series will be a coming of age opportunity for a few fresh-faced All Blacks and Lions. Damian Mckenzie, Scott Barrett and Rieko Ioane have all had tastes of international rugby and should get another opportunity to show their talent, while England’s Maro Itoje and Ireland’s Robbie Henshaw will look to continue their own successes in the Lions jersey.
The matches between the Lions and New Zealand’s five Super Rugby teams will be a great opportunity for fringe and future All Blacks to test their skills against international opposition. Matt Faddes and Reggie Goodes will look to build on a breakthrough seasons for the Highlanders and Hurricanes last year, while Jordie Barrett will look to prove why he’s already had a small taste of life in the All Blacks camp.
MAORI ALL BLACKS
The Lions will be desperate for revenge on the Maori All Blacks after their surprising defeat to the side during their 2005 series. This will be a cracker of a game in Rotorua and don’t be too surprised if the Lions field a full strength side to make up for their loss twelve years ago.
In 2005 the All Blacks ran away 3-0 winners in what was a hugely disappointing series for the Lions. Twelve years later we should expect a much more even contest. England’s impressive winning streak under Eddie Jones, Ireland’s famous win in Chicago and Scotland’s recent rise in form proves Northern Hemisphere rugby is well and truly on the up. This will be the All Blacks biggest test since their Rugby World Cup defence in 2015.