All Blacks say they can crack Lions' defence

Steve Hansen (Getty)
Steve Hansen (Getty)

Auckland -  The All Blacks believe they've cracked the code to beating the British and Irish Lions rushed defence, with coach Steve Hansen saying on Thursday they have plans to outsmart their lightning line speed. 

Hansen also dismissed claims by his Lions counterpart Warren Gatland that he was "worried" ahead of the long-awaited first Test between the world champions and the Lions in Auckland on Saturday.

Although the tourists have lost two midweek games, their shadow Test line-up managed to put away Super Rugby leaders Canterbury Crusaders and a strong Maori All Blacks side with a defensive intensity that crushed the life out of the opposition. 

"You would assume that because they have had a lot of success with their line speed and their ability to dominate up front that that's what they'll try and do with us," Hansen said, after naming his Test team. 

"Have we got a plan for it? Well obviously we hope we do," he added, without revealing how the All Blacks will combat the threat. 

"We'll see how good the plan is when we get out there on Saturday night but it would be very foolish to believe they're not going to bring some line speed." 

Hansen has named Sonny Bill Williams, with his ability to offload in the tightest situations, and Ryan Crotty, a master reader of the game, as his starting centres. 

The surprise selection was Rieko Ioane ahead of the vastly more experienced Julian Savea on the wing. 

Ioane is the fastest member of the All Blacks squad and also offers a safe option with Ben Smith and Israel Dagg with the All Blacks back three expected to face an aerial bombardment from Lions halves Conor Murray and Owen Farrell.

Apart from Ioane, Hansen picked a predictable All Blacks side, which includes the return of from injury of captain Kieran Read. 

He believed the Lions team was also well telegraphed, particularly their back three of Liam Williams, Anthony Watson and Elliot Daly, with Ben Te'o preferred in a close contest for inside centre. 

"He's picked the best back three. He could have played Farrell or Ben at 12. At some stage I think Farrell will end up there because (Johnny) Sexton will come on... and the forwards selected themselves," Hansen said. 

Amid the pre-match hype over the past week, Gatland accused Hansen of being "worried" ahead of the first Test, which the usually laid-back All Blacks coach found rather amusing. 

"Pretty cool, calm and excited," is how he rated himself. 

"Worry is a wasted emotion. If the thing you're worried about has happened you need to fix it so there's no point worrying about it. If it hasn't happened, then get a plan so you don't have to worry about it. 

"But it's good feedback from Warren. Look, Warren Gatland's a good coach. He's got his own style and selected a really good team and we've got to go out and earn the respect as they've got to earn ours."

Teams:

New Zealand

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)

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