Can the All Blacks sweep the floor with the British and Irish Lions?

All eyes will be on Beauden Barrett's kicking during the Lions' series.
KAI SCHWOERER/GETTY

All eyes will be on Beauden Barrett's kicking during the Lions' series.

OPINION: Will the British and Irish Lions win this test series against the All Blacks? Marc Hinton thinks not, but Hamish Bidwell is going to kick us off by arguing yes they can.

Do I actually think the British and Irish Lions will win the upcoming test series against the All Blacks? Of course not.

Now, that's not just some jingoistic sentiment or naked play to curry favour with Team All Blacks. I couldn't give a hoot about that. I simply don't rate the Lions' level of talent, compared with what New Zealand are going to put out.

The British and Irish Lions coach and captain partnership of Warren Gatland, left, and Sam Warburton have been there and ...
BILLY STICKLAND/PHOTOSPORT.

The British and Irish Lions coach and captain partnership of Warren Gatland, left, and Sam Warburton have been there and done that.

However, I've been asked to frame an argument detailing the reasons why the Lions will emerge victorious and here goes.

Smugness is issue one for the All Blacks. Not their own, necessarily, but they all live in New Zealand and this is a country where we feel a divine right to rugby supremacy. Who's in the Lions' 41-strong squad? Who cares, none of them would make our team.

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Captain Kieran Read is among a number of All Blacks to play limited parts in Super Rugby this year.
IAIN MCGREGOR/FAIRFAX NZ.

Captain Kieran Read is among a number of All Blacks to play limited parts in Super Rugby this year.

The All Blacks and their staff would be inhuman if they weren't aware of or couldn't feel the sentiment swirling around them.

Fitness is another factor in the Lions' favour. Too many All Blacks - genuine frontliners among them - have battled to get on or stay on the park this season.

Niggles, strains, pulls, whatever; they're not helpful. Guys need to be at their best for this series and a worrying number haven't.

Just off the top of my head Kieran Read (wrist), Ben Smith (head), Israel Dagg (knee), Sam Cane (head), Nehe Milner-Skudder (foot), Sonny Bill Williams (Achilles), Ryan Crotty (ankle), Dane Coles (knee and calf), Lima Sopoaga (hamstring), Liam Squire (knee), Ardie Savea (calf), Waisake Naholo (hamstring), Seta Tamanivalu (hamstring) and Vaea Fifita (ankle) have had spells out of action or been delayed in making starts to the campaign.

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Then there's Beauden Barrett, arguably the All Blacks' most important player in these tests, who has rib problem and hasn't been kicking goals.

In isolation, these ailments aren't the end of the world. But throw them all together and you have a greater pool of dinged up or underdone stars than is ideal.

The Barrett situation feeds into the other two advantages the Lions have, namely goalkicking prowess and an ability to thrive in the grind.

It's a small sample size, because Jordie Barrett has become the Hurricanes' primary goalkicker this year, but Beauden Barrett is going at 61.1 per cent. That's not high but reasonably consistent with his career record of 69 per cent for the All Blacks and 72 per cent in Super Rugby.

With Barrett, though, you take the good with the bad and till now the good has been so stupendously good that spraying the odd shot at goal or - increasingly - turning them altogether, hasn't been too costly.

Against the Lions, though, you assume winning will require a bit more grit - and a few more penalties - than the All Blacks usually get by without.

In that case, accuracy and kicking goals and playing the percentages might be the order of the day. That will be meat and drink to the Lions, but much different fare than your average All Black is used to.

They come from a Super Rugby diet of effortless thrashings that won't give them the stomach to fight the Lions.

Feeling convinced yet?

 

Marc Hinton

I think there's more chance that Sonny Bill Williams becomes Reserve Bank Governor.

I'm not sure I can be any more emphatic on this. It simply ain't happening on Steve Hansen's watch.

Let's acknowledge this is a strong Lions touring group, if not a nationalistically balanced one. They have 16 representatives from the dominant, and record-equalling, England squad (though, notably, not their captain) and 11 members of Joe Schmidt's Ireland outfit that gave the All Blacks such fits in 2016.

There are some form horses in Gatland's stable, that's for sure. And they'll have their usual assortment of big grunters up front, sound tacticians in the halves and midfielders who will carry over the advantage line.

The Lions will certainly have a starter's chance, even if Gatland has rather tested things with selection of no less than a dozen of his Welsh squad that struggled so noticeably during the Six Nations where they lost to England, Scotland and France.

It doesn't matter. This series will not be about the firepower or otherwise of the Lions. It will be about a very good, deep and confident All Blacks team playing with a pace and precision that the composite northern outfit just won't be able to match.

The numbers reinforce this.

The All Blacks have not lost at home on Hansen's watch. In fact they've won their last 45 tests in New Zealand in a run stretching back to 2009. With two of the three internationals at Eden Park (where they haven't been tipped over since 1994) everything points to that streak continuing.

On the other side of the equation, the Lions' record in New Zealand does not exactly engender optimism. They've won just one of 11 series in this part of the world − and that was in 1971 when John Dawes had himself a golden generation at his disposal.

All told the Lions have won just six times in 38 attempts in New Zealand, and they will be doing well to add to that total on this visit.

This looks such an experienced and well-balanced All Blacks side I just can't see them allowing the Lions a look-in.

The New Zealanders are well aware this will almost certainly be their one and only crack at this special touring team, and they'll be massively motivated to perform with the world watching.

They have a quality pack who will stand up to the physical challenge of the visitors, and from there it's advantage black. Even in wintry conditions, Hansen's backs should hold the serious whip hand over the visitors.

Plus they have Beauden Barrett, the single most dominant and game-changing player on the planet right now. Remember Dan Carter in '05? Barrett looks poised to deliver that sort of a signature display.

 

 

 - Stuff

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