Thursday 14 December 2017

Liam Williams an injury concern for Lions as insider info suggests Jordie Barrett will start for All Blacks

Liam Williams during a British and Irish Lions Training Session at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Liam Williams during a British and Irish Lions Training Session at Jerry Collins Stadium in Porirua, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The Lions are expecting New Zealand to pick 20-year-old Jordie Barrett at full-back for Saturday’s series decider in Auckland, but they have their own concerns at No 15 after Liam Williams failed to finish training Queenstown this morning.

The management are upbeat about the Welshman’s prospects of being fit to start at Eden Park in what is likely to be an unchanged starting XV. Jack Nowell is next in line to replace him if he fails to make it.

Interestingly, the tourists are understood to have received inside information telling them that Barrett, younger brother of Beauden and Scott, is set to be included in a re-jigged All Black backline.

With Sonny Bill Williams suspended, Steve Hansen is weighing up whether to pick recalled Highlander Malakai Fekitoa or the less experienced Ngani Laumape to start alongside Anton Lienert-Brown.

While Waisake Naholo has missed most of the week’s training as he recovers from the head injury he suffered last Saturday, opening the door for Barrett to play at full-back with Israel Dagg reverting to the right wing.

Jordie Barrett would probably take over the kicking duties from his brother whose three missed kicks in Wellington contributed to his side’s defeat.

The youngster has won just one cap for his country in the warm-up match against Samoa and was under-age for the U-20 World Cup this year. He has impressed in Super Rugby this season for the Hurricanes and is rated as one of the finest prospects to have emerged from the brilliant New Zealand production line in recent years.

The All Blacks name their team at 6pm this evening Irish time, with the Lions announcing theirs two hours later.

And kicking coach Neil Jenkins allayed fears about Williams.

“He’s just a little bit tight, but he’ll be fine,” he said. “It’s probably precautionary.”

The Lions trained for the first time this morning in a breathtaking setting outside Queenstown beneath the Remarkables mountain range and they then travelled to Auckland as preparations step up for Saturday’s decisive game.

Having had a couple of days off, Jenkins says the next step is the players taking control of the week.

“Today is the time to switch on again,” Jenkins, who helped the Lions win a decisive third Test in South Africa in 1997, said.

“It’s been intense. We know what's coming our way. As Graham Henry once said about All Black losses, their boys will have been eating barbed wire from Saturday onwards.

“There’s a couple of things we want to put in place for Saturday, that would have been done today.

“A little bit of coaching but not a great deal. It’s more letting the boys take over.

“They’re playing the game, they are the ones on the pitch. Hopefully that’s the way forward, and the way the players want it as well.

“They’ve gone hard from day one, they’ve gone extremely well, there’s a fantastic spirit among them all - and that will play a big part on Saturday night.

“There’s a true camaraderie and togetherness in the squad, and that will shine through again on Saturday.”

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