Fixture: Blues v British and Irish Lions
Stadium: Eden Park, Auckland
The Blues are one of the most established teams in Super Rugby having won the tournament three times. The Blues won the first two editions of the tournament when they were coached by All Black’s legend and World Cup winning coach Sir Graham Henry. They are now managed by another All Black’s great, Tana Umaga, who has more than his fair share of history against the Lions.
The Blues are arguably the weakest of the NZ Super Rugby teams currently sitting bottom of the NZ conference, but will still have more than enough quality to cause the Lions problems tomorrow night/morning.
Players to watch out for:
The Lions scrum will face a stern test as they face an entirely All Black front row with Ofa Tu’ungafasi alongside captain James Parsons and Charlie Faumuina. The Lions scrum was solid against the Barbarians but not as dominant as Steve Borthwick would have hoped for and the boys will need to raise their game against this experienced front row.
Also watch out for the livewire scrumhalf Augustine Pulu. Pulu has now been called twice for his country and will be looking to add to his caps this tour. He is quick and dangerous with the ball in hand and showcased his skills in the loose for the All Black’s sevens squad at the Rio Olympics.
The standout name on the teamsheet for The Blues is undoubtedly code hopping legend Sonny Bill Williams.
The centre faces a late fitness test before the match with TJ Fiane on standby. His coach Umaga expects SBW to be available and the Lions should be prepared to watch his skills, offloading in improbable fashion.
Click HERE for my analysis of the Lions team.
The Lions have come in for a bit of criticism after an underwhelming opener and Gatland will want to see a response from his players. The Blues are the weakest of the Super League sides but will still be an incredibly tough challenge for this Lions side. The game will be a ferocious contest between two heavyweight packs but hopefully we will be able to see some creative play from both sides with flair players like SBW, Daly and Nowell on the pitch.
My prediction was way off last game as I predicted that the Lions would thump the Barbarians 36-10. I think this game will be close and the Lions will be tested even more than they were on the weekend. I’m predicting another close game with the Lions just edging it in the end winning 23-17.
Blues: M Collins; M Duffie, G Moala, S B Williams or T J Faiane, R Ioane; S Perofeta, A Pulu; O Tu’ungafasi, J Parsons (capt), C Faumuina, G Cowley-Tuioti, Scrafton, A Ioane, B Gibson, S Luatua. Replacements: H Faiva, H Hodgman, S Mafileo, P Tuipulotu, K Pryor, S Nock, I West, TJ Faiane/M Nanail
British & Irish Lions: L Halfpenny; J Nowell, J Payne, R Henshaw, E Daly; D Biggar, R Webb; J McGrath, K Owens (capt), D Cole, C Lawes, M Itoje, J Haskell, J Tipuric, C J Stander.
Replacements: R Best, J Marler, K Sinckler, Henderson, O’Mahony, Laidlaw, J Sexton, L Williams