Auckland - FIVE talking points ahead of the first Test between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions in Auckland on Saturday:
The once-every-12-years Lions tour is one of world rugby's most anticipated series and its history abounds with legendary players. But the truth is that the composite team's record in New Zealand is distinctly underwhelming. The Lions have contested 11 Test series against the All Blacks since 1904 and won only one, when the John Dawes-led 1971 vintage battled to a 2-1 victory with one drawn Test. The Lions' Test record in New Zealand is six wins, three draws and 29 losses, a success rate of just 16 percent.
This year is the first time the Lions have toured New Zealand with a Kiwi at the helm in the form of head coach Warren Gatland. Critics, including All Blacks mentor Steve Hansen, have dismissed Gatland's "Warrenball" tactics as one-dimensional. But Gatland is no fool and his resume includes leading the Lions to victory over Australia in 2013 and Wales to three Six Nations championships, as well as enjoying club success in Britain and New Zealand. Former All Black Gatland has an intimate knowledge of his homeland's rugby but complained when he brought Wales over last year that he lacked the players to compete for 80 minutes. With the cream of Home Nations talent at his disposal, he will have the depth he has long craved against the world champions.
Differing rule interpretations between northern and southern hemisphere referees have already caused confusion in Lions' lead-up games, particularly at scrum time. South Africa's Jaco Peyper will officiate in the first Test and the All Blacks will hope he allows the free-flowing game seen in Super Rugby. He took a hands-off approach when New Zealand downed Ireland 21-9 to exact revenge for their loss in Chicago last year, with some critics claiming he allowed dangerous play. However, he showed a willingness to punish spoiling tactics last week when he awarded the Lions a penalty try against New Zealand Maori. Much could hinge on which Peyper turns up at Eden Park, the facilitator with a light touch or the by-the-rules disciplinarian.
Hansen has made a bold selection move in choosing Rieko Ioane over Julian Savea on the left wing. Nicknamed "The Bus", Savea is fourth on the all-time list of All Blacks try-scorers, with 46 in 53 Tests. Ioane has two Test appearances off the bench against Italy and France last year. He has shone in Super Rugby this season and scored a try when the Blues beat the Lions early in the tour. But Hansen must have supreme confidence in the 20-year-old's temperament to pitch him into a Lions Test with so little experience.
15 Ben Smith, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 TJ Perenara, 22 Aaron Cruden/Lima Sopoaga, 23 Anton Lienert-Brown
British & Irish Lions
15 Liam Williams (Scarlets/WAL), 14 Anthony Watson (Bath/ENG), 13 Jonathan Davies (Scarlets/WAL), 12 Ben Te'o (Worcester/ENG), 11 Elliot Daly (Wasps/ENG), 10 Owen Farrell (Saracens/ENG), 9 Conor Murray (Munster/IRL), 8 Taulupe Faletau (Bath/ENG), 7 Sean O'Brien (Leinster/IRL), 6 Peter O'Mahony (captain - Munster/IRL), 5 George Kruis (Saracens/ENG), 4 Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys/WAL), 3 Tadhg Furlong (Leinster/IRL), 2 Jamie George (Saracens/ENG), 1 Mako Vunipola (Saracens/ ENG)
Substitutes: 16 Ken Owens (Scarlets/WAL), 17 Jack McGrath (Leinster/IRL), 18 Kyle Sinckler (Harlequins/ENG), 19 Maro Itoje (Saracens/ ENG), 20 Sam Warburton (Cardiff/WAL), 21 Rhys Webb (Ospreys/WAL), 22 Johnny Sexton (Leinster/IRL), 23 Leigh Halfpenny (Toulon/WAL)