There is little doubt where British and Irish Lions’ coach Warren Gatland thinks that the All Blacks are vulnerable.
The Lions will be set up to dominate the forward play when they travel to New Zealand for three tests this summer. The theory is that if the tourists’ pack dominate their counterparts, they will starve the free-flowing All Blacks’ backs of a meaningful supply of possession, hence the appointment of Sam Warburton as captain.
The Welshman’s experience and leadership qualities will be key if he to keep the Lions’ forwards on the front foot in both set-plays and open play. He captained a successful Lions tour of Australia in 2013.
Kiwi Gatland has named a huge 41-man squad for the summer tour but there will still a few surprise omissions. Though Six Nations champions England have had 16 players named in the squad as compared to 12 from Wales and 11 from Ireland, England skipper Dylan Hartley misses out and Wasps lock Joe Launchbury has also been omitted – the pair will now tour Argentina with their country. Only two Scots made the cut, despite Scotland beating Wales and Ireland in this year’s Six Nations.
Gatland has generally opted for those he thinks can cover several positions as tours of New Zealand are usually tough on the players and the coach doesn’t want to be calling up replacements mid-tour. Two of the tourists’ likely key players are specialists in their position, however, though Jared Payne’s inclusion to play at full-back behind Irish team-mate Johnny Sexton was something of a surprise.
Overall, this looks a stronger squad than the one which won in Australia four years ago and is in a different league to the one thumped the last time the Lions visited New Zealand, though it will be interesting to see how Gatland is going to squeeze Sexton, Owen Farrell and Dan Biggar into his back-line.
The Lions are 4/1 on Betfair to win their three-match Test series with New Zealand with their hosts a strong 1/4 to emerge victorious. The All Blacks are double world champions and they will play the second test is Auckland, where they haven’t lost since 1994, so the size of the Lions’ task should not be underestimated.
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Sexton is 1/3 to wear the number 10 shirt in the first test and the All Blacks are a general 10/11 to complete a 3-0 series whitewash. I think that the Lions are good enough to give them problems, however, so the 9/4 with Ladbrokes for a 2-1 correct score makes more appeal.