The British and Irish Lions’ first test against New Zealand takes place at Eden Park tomorrow. Can they defeat the All Blacks and start their three-match test series in style?
The Lions’ 2017 New Zealand Tour – The Story So Far
The British and Irish players have won four and lost two of the six matches that they’ve played so far on their 2017 Tour of New Zealand. They triumphed in their opening tie against the NZ Provincial Barbarians, winning by 13–7, but were defeated by the Blues (22–16) at Eden Park four days later. They were victorious against the Crusaders, at Christchurch’s AMI Stadium, beating their rivals by 12–3. However, the 13th of June proved to be an unlucky date for the Lions, as they lost to the Highlanders by 22-23. Four days later, they produced a far more satisfying result when they defeated the Maori All Blacks by 32–10 at the Rotorua International Stadium. They then went on to beat the Chiefs by 34-6 at the FMG Stadium Waikato on Tuesday.
The First Test Match – Will Britain and Ireland’s Rugby Union Stars Shine at Eden Park?
While there may not be a major rugby trophy at stake on this occasion, both teams will want to set their stalls out by winning the first test match. Back in May, before the tour commenced, Scotland’s former head coach, Vern Cotter, certainly believed that the British and Irish players had what it took to seal the series win. According to the BBC, he said: “I think the player talent is there, I think the determination, desire and belief is there. I think they have a real chance.” Cotter claimed that what happened in the 2015 Rugby World Cup had been “a bit of a wake-up call” to teams in the northern hemisphere. None of the home nations managed to make it into the semi-finals, and New Zealand eventually won the famous rugby trophy, having beaten Australia in the final by 34–17. The former Crusaders coach stated that he thought the experience had pushed the home nations to improve dramatically since then. “I think they are strong enough to win,” he said.
Following their match against the Chiefs, Warren Gatland, the team’s head coach, told Sky Sports that he hoped they were finding their form at the right moment: “We’re in pretty good shape,” he said. “We’re up against it, but we’re getting better each week.” The team has been the focus of controversy, however, both in the run-up to, and during, the tour. When Gatland made his initial squad selection, back in April, some fans and pundits were shocked to discover that the 41-man squad only included two Scots. He attracted further criticism when he called up four Welsh and two Scottish players during the tour. Some people, including Brian Moore, suggested that they were picked because the Welsh team was already in New Zealand and the Scots were touring Australia, rather than on merit. The squad have also fiercely denied claims that there is a division between the “mid-week” and the “weekend” teams. Whilst all this could have been distracting, however, Gatland’s men don’t seem to have been affected by it and, if their form continues to get better, they could prove to be tough opposition for the All Blacks.
Which team do you think will win the first test? Do you think they’ll go on to win the series? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section, on Facebook or on Twitter.