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

By Thomas Branston


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


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


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


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

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 –


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 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.  



Eddie Jones names England squad to face Argentina

By Thomas Branston

Dylan Hartley captains the side in their first test against Argentina. 

Eddie Jones has named his 23-man squad to face Argentina in San Juan on Saturday and the Australian will hand debuts to Tom Curry, Alex Lozowski, Harry Williams and Mark Wilson.

Dylan Hartley will make his 85th cap for England as he captains an altered side for the first of two tests against the Pumas.

Jones has also named seven uncapped players on the bench including Northampton Saints new signing Piers Francis, who joined up with the squad on Monday evening from Auckland, and Denny Solomona, who has recovered from his foot injury that almost ended his chance of touring.

Other uncapped players include Worcester’s Jack Singleton, Will Collier, Saracens lock Nick Isiekwe, and Exeter Chiefs pair Don Armand and Jack Maunder.

England side to face Argentina | 15. Mike Brown, (VC), 14. Marland Yarde, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Alex Lozowski, 11. Jonny May, 10. George Ford (VC), 9. Danny Care (VC); 1. Ellis Genge, 2. Dylan Hartley (C), 3. Harry Williams, 4. Joe Launchbury, 5. Charlie Ewels, 6. Mark Wilson, 7. Tom Curry, 8. Nathan Hughes

Replacements | 16. Jack Singleton, 17. Matt Mullan, 18. Will Collier, 19. Nick Isiekwe, 20. Don Armand, 21. Jack Maunder, 22. Piers Francis, 23. Denny Solomona

BNZ Crusaders vs the British and Irish Lions: Everything you need to know

By Thomas Branston

Israel Dagg named in starting XV to face the Lions.

The British and Irish Lions travel to Christchurch to face the BNZ Crusaders at the AMI Stadium on Saturday as they look to bounce back from their recent defeat to the Blues in Auckland.

Warren Gatland has named his squad ahead of the tie and Welsh lock Alun Wyn Jones will captain the side that includes Owen Farrell and George North, who will make their first starts of this tour.

The hosts will make history on Saturday when they will face up against the Lions for the first time.

BNZ Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson has named a strong side which includes nine All Blacks that have been named in Steve Hansen’s 33-man squad set to face the Lions in the test series.

The squad also includes full-back Israel Dagg who will be a familiar face to the Lions and a backline brimming with the exciting young Super Rugby talent.

Alun Wyn Jones will lead the Lions out in Christchurch on Saturday. 

Gatland has rung the changes again for the third game of the tour seeing the starting pack being replaced from the Blues defeat. England and Saracens pair Mako Vunipola and Jamie George come into the front row with Leinster’s Tadhg Furlong.

Alun Wyn Jones will lead the side and will partner up with George Kruis whilst Ireland’s Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien will be either side of Taulupe Faletau  in the back row.

The backline has also seen everyone replaced from the last game with a new halfback partnership in Conor Murray and Owen Farrell.

Worcester’s Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies will pair up in midfield with the backline being made up of Liam Williams who was shown a yellow card against the Blues, George North and Stuart Hogg.


BNZ Crusaders | 15. Israel Dagg 14. Seta Tamanivalu, 13. Jack Goodhue, 12. David Havili, 11. George Bridge, 10. Richie Mo’ung, 9. Bryn Hall; 1. Joe Moody, 2. Codie Taylor, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock (C), 6. Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7. Matt Todd (VC), 8. Jordan Taufua

Replacements | 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Michael Alaalatoa, 19. Quinten Strange, 20. Jed Brown, 21. Mitchell Drummond, 22. Mitchell Hunt, 23. Tim Bateman

British and Irish Lions | 15. Stuart Hogg, 14. George North, 13.  Jonathan Davies, 12. Ben Te’o, 11. Liam Williams, 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Conor Murray; 1. Mako Vunipola, 2. Jamie George, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Alun Wyn Jones (C), 5. George Kruis, 6. Peter O’Mahony, 7. Sean O’Brien, 8. Taulupe Faletau

Replacements |16. Ken Owens, 17. Jack McGrath, 18. Dan Cole, 19. Maro Itoje, 20. CJ Stander, 21. Rhys Webb, 22. Johnny Sexton, 23. Anthony Watson


All Blacks reveal 33-man squad to face the British and Irish Lions

By Thomas Branston

Steve Hansen names his 33-man test squad ready for the challenge of the British and Irish Lions.

New Zealand Head Coach Steve Hansen has unveiled the 33-man All Blacks squad to take on The British & Irish Lions in the 2017 Test series that will be venue at Eden Park and Westpac Stadium.

Kieran Read will captain the side for the series and Hansen names two uncapped All Blacks that have impressed so far this season.

Hurricanes duo Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape have both been included and will look to stake a claim for a stating place during the Lions visit.

Barrett joins his two older brothers Beauden and Scott in the squad, this is the first time three brothers have been named in an All Blacks squad in their long illustrious history.

Both Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane have been included in the squad after their impressive performances against the British and Irish Lions yesterday at Eden Park.

New Zealand will face Samoa next week in a warm-up test ahead of the series and Steve Hansen’s men can expect a tough challenge against the south pacific Islanders.

New Zealand squad to face the British and Irish Lions in the 2017 test series:

Dane Coles (Wellington, 49)
Codie Taylor (Canterbury, 15)
Nathan Harris (Bay of Plenty, 4)
Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury, 58)
Charlie Faumuina (Auckland, 46)
Owen Franks (Canterbury, 90)
Joe Moody (Canterbury, 24)
Ofa Tu’ungafasi (Auckland, 4)
Scott Barrett (Taranaki, 4)
Brodie Retallick (Hawke’s Bay, 60)
Luke Romano (Canterbury, 26)
Samuel Whitelock (Canterbury, 84)
Sam Cane (Bay of Plenty, 40)
Jerome Kaino (Auckland, 74)
Kieran Read, captain (Counties Manukau, 97)
Ardie Savea (Wellington, 12)
Liam Squire (Tasman, 8)

Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato, 25)
TJ Perenara (Wellington, 29)
Aaron Smith (Manawatu, 58)
Beauden Barrett (Taranaki, 49)
Aaron Cruden (Manawatu, 47)
Lima Sopoaga (Southland, 6)
Ryan Crotty (Canterbury, 26)
Ngani Laumape (Manawatu, uncapped)
Anton Leinert-Brown (Waikato, 9)
Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau, 33)
Jordie Barrett (Taranaki, uncapped)
Israel Dagg (Hawke’s Bay, 61)
Rieko Ioane (Auckland, 2)
Waisake Naholo (Taranaki, 12)
Julian Savea (Wellington, 52)
Ben Smith (Otago, 60)

Five things we’ve learnt from the Blues’ win over the British and Irish Lions

By Thomas Branston


The British and Irish Lions suffered a 22-16 defeat at the hands of Super Rugby side the Blues on Wednesday and Warren Gatland’s men will need to take a long hard look at themselves in reflection of their shock defeat, but they cannot dwindle as they must prepare to face the Crusaders on Saturday.

1 | It’s clear from the performance against the Blues that goal kicking and an average set-piece will not be enough to win games against the Super Rugby sides. Although Leigh Halfpenny knocked through three successful attempts his efforts were in vein as Ihaia West scored a late try to seal the tie.

The Lions set-piece showed glimpses of improvement from their narrow win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians and CJ Stander benefitted from the only try of the game for the Lions from the set-piece that led to a driving maul and the powerful back row crashed over.

2 | Southern hemisphere sides play expansive attacking rugby and are known for their successes by playing this way, apposed to the northern hemisphere playing hard-running, set-piece rugby.

Sonny Bill Williams and Ihaia West combined late on to score a sensational try which won the game for the Blues, the Lions defensively were not good enough and throughout the game were caught out by quick offloading rugby which allowed the Blues to breach gaps and gain valuable yards.

Sonny Bill Williams

3 | Sonny Bill Williams has still got it, his inspired performance was rewarded by the centre scoring a try just before half-time to give his side a 12-10 lead at the break. The New Zealand international played a phenomenal game against the Lions and his famous offload was in full motion with minutes to go as it was his quick thinking that allowed West through to score the winner.

Williams has been rewarded with his impressive performances by being named in the All Blacks 33-man squad to face the Lions. The 31-year-old has been included by Steve Hansen for the three tests at the end of the tour.

4 | Warren Gatland needs to look his game plan for the clash against the Crusaders as the Blues managed to shut down majority of the Lions play at he set-piece and in open field.

The Lions backline were far from impressive and looked flat throughout the encounter. The side in general lacked creativity, however their were positives to take from the clash. The forwards put in a good shift and allowed the backs to bring the ball forward. Unfortunately most of the packs work was undone by the lack of creativity.

5 | The British and Irish Lions lacked creativity when moving the ball forward during the game and were slow to get started against the Blues. It was difficult for them when the likes of Sonny Bill Williams being in form and running the show for the hosts.

The Lions were also guilty of ill-discipline throughout the game which enabled the Blues to play their style of rugby and they thrived upon it. The error count at the set-piece and generally on the park were poor from the Lions and this was another factor in the side suffering their first defeat of the 2017 tour.

The British and Irish Lions left feeling Blue after defeat to the Super Rugby outfit

By Thomas Branston

Sonny Bill Williams scored a crucial try before the break to give his side the lead at half-time.

The Blues produced a dazzling performance to inflict a first defeat of the 2017 tour of New Zealand for the British and Irish Lions with a 22-16 win in torrential conditions at Eden Park.

A sensational Ihaia West try late on secured the Blues a dramatic win for the Auckland based club on Wednesday.

Young winger Reiko Loane opened the scoring before CJ Stander replied scoring from a driving maul and Leigh Halfpenny notched the Lions into a five point lead with a penalty leading up to the break.

But Sonny Bill Williams was quickest to react to a penalty bouncing back off the posts to score and Stephen Perofeta converted to give the Blues a 12-10 half-time lead.

Halfpenny added two more penalties during the second period to give the Lions a narrow lead but West secured the win with a brilliant try.

Warren Gatland’s Lions put in an improved performance from their narrow win over the Provincial Barbarians but it wasn’t enough to stop a Sonny Bill Williams inspired Blues side.

The Lions hadn’t lost a midweek fixture in New Zealand since 1993 where they lost to Hawkes Bay and Waikato and Gatland’s men now have an uphill climb coming up as they face the Crusaders on Saturday.

The Blues worked through the phases early on and opened the scoring in stylish fashion when Perofeta delivered a perfectly weighted ball to Loane who scored in the corner.

Garland’s Lions replied just ten minutes later with a try of their own and only the second try of the tour.

Stander crashed over off the back of a maul and Halfpenny added the conversion to give the Lions a lead.

Jack Nowell crashes through the oncoming challenges.

Halfpenny then slotted a penalty through to extend the Lions lead but the blues responded playing expansive offloading rugby.

With half-time approaching and pressure mounting, Williams was quickest to react after Perofota’s penalty bounced back off the post and the centre dived over beating two Lions to the ball.

The Blues went into the break with a deserving lead in difficult conditions and the game continued that way during the second period.

West extended the Blues’ lead with a penalty before Halfpenny added a further two from his boot to edge the Lions ahead with full-time approaching.

Ihaia West breaks free of the Lions defence to score a sensational try.

Williams then broke free in the midfield and despite being tackled he produced one of his authentic offloads to West.

And the fly-half showed great speed, agility and balance to race past three Lions defenders to score under the posts to win the game.


The Blues vs the British and Irish Lions: Everything YOU need to know about the Lions

By Thomas Branston

Wales prop Ken Owens returns from injury to Captain the British and Irish Lions.

The British and Irish Lions will be captained by Wales international hooker Ken Owens as they prepare to face Super Rugby franchise the Blues at Eden Park, Auckland on Wednesday.

The Scarlets hooker recovered from an ankle injury sustained towards the end of the season and returns to make his Lions debut after almost jeopardising his place on the tour of New Zealand.

Warren Gatland has named 15 changes including 11 Lions debutants for their clash against the Auckland based side and Owens is joined by four of his fellow internationals in the squad with Rhys Webb, Dan Biggar and Leigh Halfpenny all starting and Liam Williams named on the bench.

Dan Biggar replaces Jonny Sexton at fly-half to make his Lions debut.

The front row is made up of Wales hooker Ken Owens, Jack McGrath and Dan Cole with Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje partnering at second-row.

The back row is lined up with Wasps flanker James Haskell, Justin Tipuric and Munster forward CJ Stander starting at no. 8.

Its an all Welsh pairing at half-back with Rhys Webb starting at scrum-half and Dan Biggar at fly-half, while Ireland duo Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne are paired together in midfield.

Toulon’s Leigh Halfpenny starts at full-back and is joined by England’s Jack Nowell and Elliot Daly who competed against each other in the Aviva Premiership final just two weeks ago.

Bath Wing Anthony Watson scored a crucial try in the win over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians.

The New Zealand Provincial Barbarians gave the Lions a stern test in their first game of the tour with the visitors edging a close tie, a 13-7 victory after Anthony Watson spared their blushes.

The front row that started against the Provincial Barbarians (Kyle Sinckler, Rory Best and Joe Marler) are all named on the bench, as well as fly-half Johnny Sexton and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw and Ireland back row Peter O’Mahony has been added to the squad.

The British and Irish Lions to face the Blues | 15. Leigh Halfpenny, 14. Jack Nowell, 13. Jared Payne, 12. Robbie Henshaw, 11. Elliot Daly, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Rhys Webb; 1. Jack McGrath, 2. Ken Owens (c), 3. Dan Cole, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Courtney Lawes, 6. James Haskell, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. CJ Stander.

Replacements | 16. Rory Best, 17. Joe Marler, 18. Kyle Sinckler, 19. Iain Henderson, 20. Peter O’Mahony, 21. Greig Laidlaw, 22. Johnny Sexton, 23. Liam Williams.


A Rugby Union Blog by Tom Branston