Maori All Blacks vs the British and Irish Lions: Everything you need to know

By Thomas Branston

teamMain_MaoriAllBlacks.jpg

The British and Irish Lions will look to bounce back from a second tour defeat to another Super Rugby side as they face the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua on Saturday.

The Lions were edged out 23-22 against the Highlanders in a pulsating game at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Warren Gatland has named a strong squad that will be led by Peter O’Mahony and the Irish back row has described his captains call up as “a huge honour.”

England fly-half Owen Farrell was named in the squad but has since pulled out with a grade one quad strain after picking up the injury during training.

Dan Biggar replaces Farrell on the bench after a strong performance against the Highlanders.

image

Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadgh Furlong will make up the front row and Gatland has opted for an English lock pairing (Kruis and Itoje) with O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Toby Faletau in the back row.

Conor Murray and Jonny Sexton will complete their Ireland Rugby combination at scrum-half and fly-half while Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies partner in midfield.

George North, Anthony Watson and Leigh Halfpenny make up the back three with this side expected to replicate Warren Gatland’s XV for the test series.

Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Kyle Sinckler Iain Henderson, Sam Warburton, Greig Laidlaw, Dan Biggar and Elliot Daly have all been named on the bench.

1481967021932.jpg

Maori All Blacks Head Coach Colin Cooper prepares his side for a stern test on Saturday and his inherited team haven’t been beaten since 2003, winning 20 consecutive games.

His sides last defeat was a 23-9 loss against England in New Plymouth on September 6 2003.

The Maori All Blacks were the only side to beat the British and Irish Lions outside of the test series on their last tour of New Zealand in 2005 with a 19-13 win.

Cooper has named nine All Blacks in his squad to face the British and Irish Lions, boasting a promising backline full of young talent and a forward pack brimming with power and experience.

Highlanders hooker Ash Dixon will captain the side and will hope the Maori All Blacks can replicate what his Super Rugby side did on Tuesday.

The backline plays host to some of the most exciting young generation of  All Black backs with talented wing Nehe Milner-Skudder, fly-half Damian McKenzie and Blues wing Rieko Ioane who has already faced the Lions on their tour.

Centre Charlie Ngatai and scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow make up the rest of the backline which poses great threats to the Lions defence.

Veteran loose forward Liam Messam adds strength to the pack with 43 All Black caps and is joined by Elliott Dixon and prop Kane Hames, with hooker Hika Elliott on the bench.


Maori All Blacks to face the British and Irish Lions |

DCV5zaEXUAQ5U7V.jpg-large.jpg


The British and Irish Lions to face the Maori All Blacks | DCV4xrvXoAEE-_F.jpg-large.jpg


 

Advertisements

Five things we’ve learnt from the Highlanders’ 23-22 win over the British and Irish Lions

By Thomas Branston

nintchdbpict000331212610.jpg

1 | The British and Irish Lions were succumbed to an agonisingly close defeat in Dunedin. The side learned some hard truths in their narrow defeat to the Highlanders, however there were many positives to take from their improved performance.

The likes of Kyle Sinckler, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Joseph and Tommy Seymour all had stand-out performances in the red jersey. The set-piece was improved but it was at the breakdown where this side fell short of success as they threw away a nine-point lead.

2 | A huge number of missed tackles played its part in an open attacking game on Tuesday. The Lions lack of defensive structure fed the brilliance of the Highlanders and allowed them to play a Super Rugby style of game.

A theme that has followed the British and Irish Lions throughout their tour so far has been their lack of discipline. In key moments against the Super Rugby outfit handed Lima Sopoaga and Marty Banks easy penalties, which ultimately won the game for the hosts.

Against the Crusaders on Saturday, the Lions had produced a sensational defensive lock-out, but in this match-up they reverted to the frequent lapses of concentration which undermined their efforts in last week’s defeat by the Blues.

nintchdbpict000331186363.jpg

3 | Lima Sopoaga, Waisake Naholo proved just how difficult the test series is going to be with the two individuals being selected in Steve Hansen’s 33-man squad to face the Lions. Although Malakai Fekitoa missed the cut, the outside centre showed his brilliance through the encounter and posed very dangerous to the Lions defence.

Sopoaga was crucial in the dynamics of the squad when attacking, the fly-half was at the centre of everything constructive the Highlanders did. Whilst Naholo was at his prolific best, scoring a try and knocking Courtney Lawes out for the count. The powerful winger has shown Warren Gatland that he is not to be messed with when the Lions come to face him in an All Blacks jersey.

4 | The British and Irish Lions injury count is mounting up, Courtney Lawes left the field of play with suspected concussion after his collision with Naholo before the powerful winger got through three Lions defenders including Lawes to score during the first-half.

Stuart Hogg was also confirmed before the game with the Highlanders that he would take no further part of the tour after his accident clash with Conor Murray against the Crusaders a few days ago in Christchurch.

nintchdbpict000331188738.jpg

5 | Kyle Sinckler is making steady progress and is showing signs of a prop that could be in line for a place in the match day 23 for the tests against New Zealand.

The 24-year-old made several breaks and ball carries during a physical game in Dunedin and with his continued performances, he will surely be on Gatland’s shortlist with at least one game left for him to audition in.

Marty Banks keeps his cool as Highlanders inflict second defeat upon the British and Irish Lions

By Thomas Branston

19141926_1494870573909583_553407753_n

Highlanders fly-half Marty Banks kept his cool to convert a late penalty which secured a 23-22 victory for the Super Rugby side despite missed chances from Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly.

Scores from Waisake Naholo and Liam Coltman accompanied by penalties from Lima Sopoaga and his replacement Marty Banks were enough to secure victory.

The sides were level at half-time thanks to converted scores from Naholo and Jonathan Joseph with a penalty a piece.

Tommy Seymour and Sam Warburton both crossed the line before Coltman added the Highlanders second score of the game and Banks converted a late penalty to take the win.

19114698_1494842813912359_717883386_n

The Highlanders got the game off to an epic start with the first attack of the game, Naholo going close to a score in the corner after good work from Malakai Fekitoa.

The Lions kept them at bay but conceded a penalty, which Sopoaga converted to give the hosts an early lead.

Dan Biggar then took his opportunity to level the score ten minutes later with an easy penalty as the Lions began to get a foothold in the game.

Naholo then beat three Lions defenders to crash over the giving the Highlanders a deserving lead with Sopoaga converting.

However the Lions had other ideas with the ball going wide from a scrum on the touchline, CJ Stander did well to get the ball across to Biggar who dummied his man to get his pass off to Joseph who beat everyone to the line.

Biggar slotted his conversion through to level the scores and it stayed that way at the half-time interval with both sides locking horns on a slick surface under the roof of the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

19190886_1494842760579031_60745598_n

Seymour got the second-half off to pulsating start with a try after the wing picked off a Sopoaga kick-pass to run in untouched.

The hosts replied with Sopoaga converting another easy penalty to bring the score to within two points but Warburton crashed over under the posts to stretch the Lions lead once more and Biggar converted.

The Highlanders yet again replied instantly with a scintillating set-piece move which saw a drilled move ending in a powering driving maul which Coltman touched down off the back to score and Banks converted.

Banks then kept his cool to give the Super Rugby outfit a one point lead with a difficult kick to keep his good record going.

19184376_1494870653909575_1475093892_n

Owen Farrell replaced Biggar and instantly had a chance to regain the lead for the lions but his effort was far from close with is flying well wide of the posts.

Daly then had a huge 60 metre effort drop agonisingly short of the crossbar to deny the Lions a third tour win as the Super Rugby sides level the tour score to 2-2 over all.

The British and Irish Lions next face the Maori All Blacks on Saturday17 June in Rotorua.

The Highlanders: Meet the danger men from Dunedin

By Thomas Branston

GettyImages-479424964.jpg
The 2015 Super Rugby champions – the Highlanders

The British and Irish Lions continue their tour of New Zealand on Tuesday as they travel from Christchurch to Dunedin to face the Highlanders at the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Due to players being unavailable because of Maori and All Blacks duty the Highlanders are missing some key players, however Tony Brown’s side still pose enough of a threat to challenge the British and Irish Lions.

There are five All Black capped players in the starting XV including Malakai Fekitoa but New Zealand Head Coach Steve Hansen has overseen the Highlanders centre from his 33-man squad for the test series.

The hosts have only lost four out of 14 games in 2017 and will finish fourth in the New Zealand conference of the competition but Brown’s side still have what it takes and I look into who will be standing out on your screens on Tuesday.


8. Luke Whitelock (C)

eight_col_Luke_Whitelock_1610

Younger brother to Crusaders lock Sam, Luke joined the Highlanders in 2016 from the Christchurch based club after biding his time behind Crusaders back row Kieran Read and moved away for regular first team rugby.

The 26-year-old is big, physical and resourceful. Whitelock is a tough player and will be at every breakdown causing havoc.

Expect to see him disrupt the Lions set piece throughout the game, he will be a big problem to Gatland’s plans so its crucial he is kept quiet.

Despite only one All Blacks cap, coming back in 2013 against Japan, you will see why he should have more to his name.


13. Malakai Fekitoa

29Mar_Highlanders_800x600.jpg

A familiar face to the All Blacks squad but Fekitoa will not be featuring against the Lions after Tuesday’s game with New Zealand Head Coach Steve Hansen opting for the impressive Sonny Bill Williams.

The Tongan born New Zealander was part of both the All Blacks 2015 World Cup winning squad and the Highlanders Super rugby winning title side.

The Lions shouldn’t be fooled by his rare omission from the squad because Fekitoa will be fired-up and ready to cause destruction wherever he goes on the field.

The 25-year-old is a master of imposing the gain-line and is a savage at the breakdown, expect him to be all over the Lions backline.

Malakai Fekitoa joined the Highlanders from the Blues in 2014 and has made 60 appearances for the Super Rugby franchise.


14. Waisake Naholo

images|cms-image-000024470

A powerful winger with sublime speed, Waisake Naholo was a member of the 2015 World cup winning squad with the All Blacks and won a Super Rugby title in his first year at the Highlanders after joining from the Blues.

Naholo has scored 21 tries in 32 appearances for the Dunedin based club and the Fijian born wing will pose a huge threat to the Lions defence.

He is a prolific scorer with a brilliant try record for both club and country and Warren Gatland’s men will need to work hard to shut him out, Jack Nowell and Tommy Seymour will need to be hot on their heels to match his pace and experience.


7. Dillon Hunt

Dillon+Hunt+Super+Rugby+Rd+10+Highlanders+g_xNdCPK4tGl

A 22-year-old on a fairytale journey. Dillon Hunt is a talented open-side flanker only made his debut for the Highlanders on March 11 against the Blues at Eden Park.

Since his rise from the University of Otago, Hunt was expecting to go on holiday, study and get ready for his clubs season with his University but with a number of injuries in his position the flanker managed to get a chance with the Highlanders in Preseason.

He is a physical, tough young prospect that the Highlanders are relishing, Hunt has also knocked on the door of the All Blacks with Steve Hansen keeping a close eye on the youngster.

Since then Hunt has enjoyed 11 appearances this season and has scored two tries.


10. Lima Sopoaga

large_Lima-Sopoaga-Highlanders-kicks-800

Sopoaga has been named in the 33-man squad for the test series against the Lions and will be eager to impress after making only four appearances this season due to a hamstring injury.

The 26-year-old has six All Black caps and joined the Highlanders in 2011, scoring 687 points in 70 appearances.

The talented fly-half is a dangerous playmaker with phenomenal accuracy in his right foot.

The Highlanders will play a physical game with flowing, offloading rugby and Sopoaga will take any chances on getting points on the board should the Lions give him the opportunities.


6. Gareth Evans

Gareth+Evans+Super+Rugby+Rd+6+Highlanders+wn6gb3B_0v1l.jpg

The Highlanders squad has been hit hard by call-ups and injuries and Evans’ chance has come at the perfect time with the Lions coming to town.

The powerful back row steps in with Liam Squire and Elliot Dixon both absent.

He is extremely quick and you can expect to see him in the wide channels disrupting the Lions getting quick ball.


 

Highlanders vs the British and Irish Lions: All you need to know

By Thomas Branston

v0.jpg

The British and Irish Lions travel to Dunedin to face the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Tuesday.

Warren Gatland’s Lions returned to winning ways against the unbeaten Super Rugby outfit BNZ Crusaders after suffering a surprise defeat to the Blues in Auckland last week.

After an improved performance with Gatland naming his strongest side yet, the British and Irish Lions are in search of a second consecutive win.

The Highlanders have seven players unavailable due to New Zealand and Maori All Blacks commitments, Liam Coltman, Lima Sopoaga and Waisake Naholo have all been included in the starting XV.

Tony Brown’s side are ranked fourth out of the five New Zealand Super Rugby franchises in this year’s tournament but the 2015 champions have won 10 of their 14 matches and are assured of a playoff place.

The forwards are a strong suit for the Highlanders so the Lions can expect a tough set piece challenge, which Gatland’s side arguably haven’t faced yet.

Brown names a virtually unchanged starting pack from the side that were edged 25-22 by the Crusaders in their last Super Rugby match with only Jackson Hemopo and Dillon Hunt added.

Teihorangi Walden gets a rare start with Richard Buckman shifting to full-back and Sopoaga will start at fly-half which moves Marty Banks to the bench and sees Kayne Hammington make just only his second start of the season at scrum-half.

19073805_1491994350863872_1340069868_n.jpg

Sam Warburton returns to the starting XV and will captain the side as Gatland again rings the changes.

Joe Marler, Rory Best and Kyle Sinckler return to the front row after the defeat against the Blues and will have a tough challenge against a strong Highlander front row.

Courtney Lawes partners up with Iain Henderson with a back line which will see James Haskell, who will face his former club, CJ Stander and Warburton complete the forward pack.

Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar make up a Welsh partnership at halfback with Webb looking to match the performance of Conor Murray against the Crusaders.

Robbie Henshaw and Jonathan Joseph partner the midfield and will need to be creative against Teihorangi Walden and Malakai Fekitoa.

Tommy Seymour, Jared Payne and Jack Nowell make up the back three with Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Dan Cole, Alun Wyn Jones, Justin Tipuric, Greig Laidlaw, Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly make the bench.


Highlanders side to face the British and Irish Lions |

DCBO_jdUIAAz2oe.jpg


The British and Irish Lions side to face the Highlanders | 

DCA0gOMVwAAa1jg.jpg


 

Farrell wins battle of the boot as Lions beat Crusaders in Christchurch scalp

By Thomas Branston

19141592_1491994304197210_518876499_n.jpg

Owen Farrell helped the British and Irish Lions beat the unbeaten Super Rugby side Crusaders in a battle of the boot.

The Lions fly-half secured four from five penalties as they came away with a 12-3 win at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch to get their second win of the tour.

Crusaders fly-half Richie Mo’unga did get the hosts on the scoresheet in the first-half as they trailed 9-3 at half-time.

Farrell secured the match with nine minutes to go as he slotted the easiest of his penalties on the day, right in front of the posts from close range to secure a scalp for the Lions.

19047848_1491994274197213_1241836958_n.jpg

Warren Gatland started arguably his strongest team of the series to match the pace, creativity and strength of an unbeaten Crusaders side and it proved crucial as the Lions produced an improved performance against Super Rugby’s in-form outfit.

In a very tight game played upon a greasy surface, it came down to the penalty count and if it weren’t for the Crusaders attacking, try-scoring mentality the game could have been a lot closer on the scoresheet.

Owen Farrell kicked three from four attempts in the first period for the Lions while Richie Mo’unga slotted one for the Crusaders before half-time.

The England fly-half then added a crucial penalty with nine minutes to play to ease the pressure on the Lions.

The win inflicted a first defeat on the New Zealanders this season and a first under Head Coach Scott Robertson, and the revitalised Lions will now move on to face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday.

Crusaders danger men the British and Irish Lions need to watch out for

By Thomas Branston

Crusaders-fans-2017.jpg

BNZ Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson has named a strong side to face the British and Irish Lions at the AMI Stadium on Saturday.

The Crusaders have a few familiar faces starting the match with the likes of captain Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg but Robertson has also experimented by adding in some talented young players into the ranks with a particularly impressive backline.

Not to mention last seasons Crusaders skipper Kieran Read who misses out on the tie with a finger injury, but the All Blacks captain should be back in time to face the Lions in the test match series.

Going on previous performances, the Lions will have their work cut out as they will have to produce some creative rugby to breakdown play and score points, the Crusaders have a very talented side so consistency and discipline will be key.

I look into some familiar faces and some names you might want to look out for in tomorrow’s matchup in Christchurch.


Sam Whitelock

1494995852466.jpg

A born leader and an influential part of the All Blacks squad, winning the tournament on two occasions in 2011 and 2015.

Sam Whitelock was named captain at the beginning of the 2017 campaign, replacing current All Blacks skipper Kieran Read and the powerful lock will play an influential part in the success of the hosts on the day.

The 28-year-old will battle it out at the set-piece with Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones and Saracens’ George Kruis in what should be an epic battle.

Capped 84 times with the All Black Whitelock is dangerous at the breakdown, don’t be surprised if you see the 6 foot 8 inches lock turning over ball and crashing into anyone who steps in his path.


Israel Dagg

israeldaggcropped_1e3r0ddfb1m291b1seknyu4u0c.jpg

A versatile, agile back at heart, Dagg was part of the All Blacks 2011 squad that beat France to lift the famous Webb Ellis Cup.

Naturally positioned at full-back, Israel Dagg has made 61 appearances for New Zealand and has recently been called up to the 33-man squad to face the Lions in the test series.

The 29-year-old has plenty of pace and an eye for a gap to breach, not to add he has an incredible kick in him.

Dagg will be the most experienced player in the Crusaders back three and faces the oncoming challenges of Stuart Hogg, George North and Liam Williams.


Owen Franks

654430624.jpg

Owen Franks is considered to be one of, if not the best tighthead prop in the world at the moment.

He is an experienced, dual World Cup winner and has 90 All Black caps to his name.

The 29-year-old is one to watch out for, strong on the ball, masterful in the set-piece and he is able to secure the ball in difficult positions.

Plying his trade for the Crusaders since 2009, Franks has raked up 123 appearances for the Christchurch based club and his experience will be key if the hosts are to beat the Lions.

Franks will partner up with fellow All Black internationals Codie Taylor and Joe Moody in a very strong front row and they will face up against Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong in what promises to be an explosive encounter come scrum-time.


Jack Goodhue

2404417.jpg
Jack Goodhue (right)

Jack Goodhue is an upcoming talented outside centre with ample of speed, agility and balance which has allowed him to break into the Crusaders starting XV this season.

Although he has only made three appearances for the Crusaders, after a injury ridden year in 2016 Goodhue has been highly impressive in his play which has impressed Head Coach Robertson.

The 21-year-old inside centre won World Rugby Under 20 Championships in 2015 and has since developed his game after his knee injuries.

Goodhue will partner up with David Havili in midfield, making the pair very unexperienced compared to the Lions pairing with Warren Gatland  opting for Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies.

Expect a physical battle from the midfield quartet with both sets of players contrasting their focusses on powerful ball carrying opposed to offloading quick-ball play.


Richie Mo’unga –

633746444.jpg

Richie Mo’unga is a young, talented fly-half with a powerful yet accurate cannon of a right foot.

The 23-year-old has made 25 appearances for the Crusaders since 2016 and has scored a total of 281 points in his time in the red and black jersey.

Mo’unga debuted on 27 February 2016 at home against the Chiefs and went on to start all 16 matches during a season and he was also a member of the New Zealand Under-20 side that finished in 3rd at the 2014 IRB Junior World Championship in France where he scored a total of 29 points in 5 games.

Since then the talented fly-half has found himself a regular in the Crusaders 10 shirt and he will look to rally up as many points as he can against the lions on Saturday.

Mo’unga will come up against Owen Farrell at fly-half and it will be interesting to see who will get the upper-hand.


George Bridge

George+Bridge+Super+Rugby+Rd+1+Crusaders+v+qGDm60ADz-ll

George Bridge is a promising prospect for the Crusaders and the speedy wing has impressed scoring eight tries in his eight appearances this season trailing Vince Aso (10) and Ngani Laumape (9) for tries scored during the 2017 season.

The 22-year-old has plenty of speed and his agility and footwork allow him to beat defenders in almost impossible positions.

Bridge was part of the side that won the World Rugby Under 20 Championships in 2015 where he made two appearances and scored one try.

After an impressive season so far Bridge will certainly be a danger man for the lions to deal with and the young winger will be coming up against Welsh pair Liam Williams and George North.