Monday 23 October 2017

Hurricanes can add to Tourists' woes thanks to All Black presence

Stander has been key to this mid-week side and is in many ways the unluckiest man not to be involved in the first team given his contribution. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Stander has been key to this mid-week side and is in many ways the unluckiest man not to be involved in the first team given his contribution. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The selection for the first Test has added to the interest in this final mid-week game. If two starters from that win over the Chiefs could force their way into the starting team last Saturday, then there is a chance that others can do the same tomorrow.

Opposite them are the Super Rugby champions, coached by two familiar faces in former Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree and ex-Munster centre Jason Holland who welcome back a quartet of All Blacks to the fold.

One of them, Julian Savea, has a lot to prove having been dropped for the first Test at Eden Park. Rieko Ioane's double will probably see him miss out again this week in his home stadium and the Lions can expect a response.

They need to meet it in kind.

Again, Rory Best is captain of the side and it contains the same starting pack from that win in Hamilton last Tuesday.

That means Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes and CJ Stander seem unlikely to start Saturday's game at Westpac Stadium given it is more difficult for forwards to double up.

Yet, there are openings in the wake of Warren Gatland's stinging criticism of the forwards who failed to front up against the world champions on Saturday.

Stander has been key to this mid-week side and is in many ways the unluckiest man not to be involved in the first team given his contribution.

Best, too, has kept this group focused after two early defeats but with the six controversial new faces on the bench ahead of their departure for home on Wednesday, the match-day squad is light and players could be asked to play more minutes than they're used to.

This could be the last game on tour for a number of players like Greig Laidlaw, Dan Biggar and Robbie Henshaw - who has done little wrong on tour but has not been able to dislodge Ben Te'o from the first team in what must have been a frustrating month.

Alongside him, Jonathan Joseph is being touted in some quarters as a potential impact replacement but more likely Jack Nowell could be propelled into the No 23 role with a big performance at full-back.

Gatland has made little secret of his admiration for the English winger who scored two tries last week and the capacity to cover No 15 adds to his options.

The 'Canes are the last Super Rugby side to get a crack off the tourists and themselves play with quick line-speed which will ask questions of the Lions' attack.

Although they are without some key men like Beauden Barrett, Ardie Savea and TJ Perenara, they still have quality to call on and Barrett's younger brother Jordie is the latest sensation to come through.

Much depends on the spirit of the Lions at this stage as thoughts inevitably turn to the flight home in less than two weeks' time.

For those with a shot of Test selection there is much to play for, but it will be difficult for those who know they have little to achieve here.

If they allow Julian Savea and Co an inch, it could be a difficult outing.

Verdict: Hurricanes

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