Tuesday 12 December 2017

All Blacks v Lions Head-To-Head - The tourists' starting XV edge it over the Kiwis

22 June 2017; Peter O'Mahony, centre, during a British and Irish Lions training session at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
22 June 2017; Peter O'Mahony, centre, during a British and Irish Lions training session at QBE Stadium in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

The British and Irish Lions will face New Zealand in the first of the three-Test series in Auckland on Saturday.

Here, we examine the head-to-head battles in the two line-ups for the Eden Park showdown.

FULL-BACK

New Zealand, Ben Smith: The world's best full-back and a talent who can decide a match on his own

Lions, Liam Williams: Preferred to Leigh Halfpenny, Williams must reprise the fine form he showed in Tuesday's 34-6 Chiefs win.

VERDICT: Smith shades it over Williams on reputation, but the Lions man could still wield a big impact on proceedings.

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Jerome Kaino and Ben Smith of the All Blacks perform the haka. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

WING

New Zealand, Israel Dagg: Picked ahead of Waisake Naholo and Julian Savea, a true threat in broken-field play.

Lions, Elliot Daly: The Wasps flyer boasts a fine kicking and counter-attacking game, and balances out the Lions' back-three options.

VERDICT: Daly could edge this one on versatility. The England star will need a perfect game to do just that, however.

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Elliot Daly of the Lions. Photo: Getty Images

OUTSIDE CENTRE

New Zealand, Ryan Crotty: A midfield playmaker operating at outside centre, or just a numbers switch with Sonny Bill Williams? Crotty could pose the Lions a lot of problems if he lurks in the 13 channel in a bid to find a chink in the tourists' rush defence.

Lions, Jonathan Davies: A bullish operator who has been in fine form and showing smart footwork. Will never lack for industry or graft either.

VERDICT: Too close to call, so will come down to which team creates the most space for their 13.

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New Zealand All Blacks' Ryan Crotty fends off a tackle. Photo: Brett Phibbs/New Zealand Herald via AP

INSIDE CENTRE

New Zealand, Sonny Bill Williams: The wrecking-ball centre's supreme offloading ability could be enough to win the game on its own.

Lions, Ben Te'o: England star Te'o has bested Williams before in their rugby league days in Sydney. Must be at his muscular best to shut out his opponent.

VERDICT: Too close to call, but their collisions will be utterly compelling.

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Sonny Bill Williams. Photo credit: David Davies/PA Wire.

WING

New Zealand, Rieko Ioane: The 20-year-old Blues star has sped through the All Blacks ranks, very highly rated.

Lions, Anthony Watson: The England flyer is the tourists' arch finisher. Seriously rapid and can conjure something from nothing.

VERDICT: Watson should have the edge here, if he heeds boss Warren Gatland's requests to back himself and go all-out in attack.

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British and Irish Lions' Anthony Watson celebrates

FLY-HALF

New Zealand, Beauden Barrett: The most dangerous fly-half in world rugby, Barrett's kick-pass threat is a huge weapon that the Lions may struggle to close down.

Lions, Owen Farrell: A serious challenger to Barrett's status as number one Test 10. Farrell has the chance here to alter that thinking, and his steely focus suggests he will not wilt.

VERDICT: Barrett boasts a wider skill-set but Farrell the unrelenting drive. Given half a chance though, Farrell could shut down his rival.

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Beauden Barrett makes a run against Ireland. Picture: Sportsfile

SCRUM-HALF

New Zealand, Aaron Smith: A sniping, pest of a scrum-half who boasts sterling passing abilities.

Lions, Conor Murray: The world's best kicking scrum-half. Can elevate himself to new levels again in this series.

VERDICT: Murray takes the edge here.

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Conor Murray of the Lions breaks with the ball during the match between the Crusaders and the British & Irish Lions at AMI Stadium on June 10, 2017 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

PROP

New Zealand, Joe Moody: A solid operator with smart technical skills.

Lions, Tadhg Furlong: The Ireland tighthead has excelled in the last 12 months.

VERDICT: Furlong can expect to dominate this particular battle.

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British and Irish Lions' Tadhg Furlong

HOOKER

New Zealand, Codie Taylor: Understudy to the injured Dane Coles but still top quality.

Lions, Jamie George: A real hard man with top-drawer technique and no little grit.

VERDICT: George has the edge here and the Lions will want to turn the screw in the front-row.

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Jamie George

PROP

New Zealand, Owen Franks: A vastly experienced campaigner and wily operator in the set-piece.

Lions, Mako Vunipola: An increasingly durable scrummager and a potent threat around the field.

VERDICT: Vunipola could take control here.

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British and Irish Lions prop Mako Vunipola

LOCK

New Zealand, Brodie Retallick: The best lock on the planet, his playmaking abilities astound at times and bolt onto supremacy in all his main duties.

Lions, Alun Wyn Jones: The Wales battler knows just how to dominate a tight exchange and will need all that nous here.

VERDICT: Retallick can claim the advantage in this match-up.

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19 November 2016; Brodie Retallick of New Zealand is tackled by CJ Stander, 6, and Tadhg Furlong of Ireland during the Autumn International match between Ireland and New Zealand at the Aviva Stadium, Lansdowne Road, in Dublin. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

LOCK

New Zealand, Sam Whitelock: Another stellar operator for the hosts, forges a formidable partnership with Retallick.

Lions, George Kruis: The Saracens star has shouldered extra leadership in New Zealand and is in fine form.

VERDICT: Kruis can shade this, but only just. A titanic battle.

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George Kruis

BLINDSIDE FLANKER

New Zealand, Jerome Kaino: The veteran Blues star is the All Blacks' enforcer. Not boasting the legs of old, but still a wily performer.

Lions, Peter O'Mahony (capt): The fiery Munster captain can set the Lions' tone with a tub-thumping turn on Saturday.

VERDICT: O'Mahony has the focused fury to take the edge in this encounter.

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Peter O’Mahony, who will captain the Lions on Saturday. Photo: Sportsfile

OPENSIDE FLANKER

New Zealand, Sam Cane: The heir to Richie McCaw's throne. Still battling to reach the almost unattainable levels of his predecessor.

Lions, Sean O'Brien: A bullish, ball-carrying battler who will slug it out with the best of them. In top form, the All Blacks fear his line-breaking abilities.

VERDICT: O'Brien can bludgeon his way to the edge in this one.

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Lions flanker Sean O’Brien. Photo: Getty Images

NUMBER EIGHT

New Zealand, Kieran Read (capt): One of the finest around, but in his first game back after a thumb injury so may be undercooked.

Lions, Taulupe Faletau: Dubbed the best player on the Lions tour so far by captain Peter O'Mahony.

VERDICT: Read could sneak ahead here, but only if he is at full throttle and not hampered by the thumb concern.

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Kieran Read

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