Thursday 18 January 2018

Jeremy Thrush: It could be case of first Test victory or bust for Lions

Former All Black Jeremy Thrush believes the British and Irish lions have to win the opening Test against New Zealand
Former All Black Jeremy Thrush believes the British and Irish lions have to win the opening Test against New Zealand

Former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush believes it could be a case of first Test victory or bust for the British and Irish Lions in New Zealand.

Thrush has little doubt the Lions must nail a June 24 opener against the All Blacks in Auckland if they are to have any hope of claiming a Test series triumph.

Realistically, though, the Gloucester forward feels that Warren Gatland's squad is up against it.

"I am backing the All Blacks to do the job," Thrush said.

"But the Lions have a chance if they get into the first Test when the All Blacks will be a bit cold. If they win that, it would make the series quite interesting.

"I would like a 3-0, but maybe 2-1 to New Zealand. If the Lions are going to win one, it will be the first (Test). I see that as their only chance."

How the Lions approach the All Blacks challenge in terms of playing style and game-plan will be fascinating, and Thrush feels they can take a leaf out of Ireland's book in how they beat New Zealand almost seven months ago.

"I think they can take a few tactics from the way Ireland played against the All Blacks in Chicago," he added.

"They had a really strong set-piece and driving maul, things New Zealand teams do not come across that much, only against a few South African teams like the Bulls.

"A lot of teams here (in Britain) rush in defence and put you under a lot of pressure to be able to get the ball wide. If the All Blacks can find a way of shipping the ball wide, they will be good and play with their flair.

"They are a smart side and they will know what's coming. They will be devising ways of countering the Lions' defence, and that will be a really interesting part of the series for me.

"The Lions are still going to have to play a bit (to win the series), and they are going to have to be smart about how they go about it."

The Lions' degree of difficulty is also increased by them playing two Tests at Eden Park, Auckland, where New Zealand are unbeaten for 23 years.

"There is so much history there," Thrush said. "When I played there, we would touch on that.

"It was not something that daunted you, but challenged you. You felt you could get on top, and it can be a mental barrier for the opposing team."

And Thrush is also predicting a demanding time for the Lions away from their All Blacks mission, with five New Zealand Super Rugby sides - Blues, Crusaders, Highlanders, Chiefs and Hurricanes - all on the pre-Test series agenda.

"The matches against the Super Rugby teams will be like Tests," he added.

"Some of the All Blacks squad will go back to their Super Rugby side to face the Lions, which is quite cool. That will bolster them and push the Lions even harder. I cannot see many easy games for them in what is a full-on tour."

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen, meanwhile, has cast doubt on the Lions' tour fixture schedule.

The Lions are due to arrive in New Zealand on Wednesday and play their first match in Whangarei on Saturday, facing a Provincial Barbarians XV.

However, Hansen says he would have wanted longer to prepare a tour party overseas, and told The Times: "You'd want to be there a week at the minimum. It's nicer to be longer than that. When we tour, we have total control over when we leave the country."

The 58-year-old former Wales coach also suggested the majority of the Lions squad could have flown to New Zealand earlier - most were not required for either the Aviva Premiership or Guinness PRO12 finals last weekend.

"If most of them are not playing, what's stopping them getting on a plane now with most of the squad, for example?

"The option you've got is for the sake of the team. We'll get over there and we'll see (the rest of) you when you get here. What they are asking them to do is pretty difficult, get here Wednesday, play Saturday."

Press Association

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