Agnew: Lions ready to rumble

The British and Irish Lions rugby team served the All Blacks a timely warning with their brutal 12-3 triumph against the Super Rugby pacesetter Crusaders last Saturday night.

It wasn’t pretty but it was tough, with the fierce tackling and accurate bombing raids sparked by Connor Murray’s boot leaving a bruising legacy among the disjointed home side.

Consequently, the Crusaders failed to make many turnovers even though they had champion
burglar Matt Todd in their midst. And with French referee Mathieu Raynal caning their All Blacks front row, there was little joy to be had in the scrums.

Instead. with Connor and first five Owen Farrell directing the Lions’ aerial attack, the only way the Crusaders managed to emulate their unbeaten Super Rugby deeds was through their brave and accurate defence.

Four penalties to one in favour of the victors told the story of two teams who gave their all but did not have the imagination or flair to concoct one try.

Hopefully, electrifying Maori All Black backs Damian McKenzie, Nehe Milner-Skudder and
James Lowe will demonstrate their class to better effect in Rotorua on Friday night. But their
forwards will need to improve immensely on their feeble effort against Munster late last year.

Against the Crusaders, the Lions proved they are ready to rumble in the three-test series
against the All Blacks, starting June 24. Whether several All Blacks will be match fi t is a moot point with so many plagued by injuries in recent months.

Top of the list are Kieran Read and Dane Coles, our two best attacking forwards when at their
peak.

Read won’t be risked against Samoa at Eden Park on Friday night after a long spell since
smashing his thumb and hooker Coles will be lucky to see any game time after being side-lined for much of the season with a severe concussion.

Ryan Crotty has rib damage, Jerome Kaino has had knee surgery, and Liam Squire, Israel
Dagg, Ben Smith and Lima Sopoaga have all missed games through one complaint or another.

Still there have been heartening aspects, especially with the deserved promotion of 20-year old fullback Jordie Barrett and prolific try-scoring midfield back Ngani Laumape.

With Jordie the best goalkicker in the squad, it will be interesting to see whether the All
Black selectors will play him at fullback and move Ben Smith to the wing as a counter to the accuracy of Farrell’s deadly boot.

It would be a huge gamble, especially with Smith regarded as the world best No 15, but young Barrett is a huge talent who has met every challenge thus far.

The other 20-year-old who continues to excite is Rieko Ioane who, with a bit of luck, could
have extended his solo try in the Blues 22-16 win against the Lions to four.

It’s also been a long wait for Sonny Bill Williams, who since rupturing his Achilles at the Rio Olympics sevens, has rediscovered his magic touch.

The offloads Steven Luatua and Williams executed in the lead up to Ihaia West’s match winning try were pure class.

The fact the Lions’ second stringers fall well short of their best team should not detract from
the major contributions made by Waisake Naholo and Malakai Fekitoa to the rousing Highlanders 23-22 win in Dunedin on Tuesday night, achieved without nine of their internationals.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award winning sports writer and author