All Blacks v British & Irish Lions 2017

The dust is beginning to settle on what was a fantastic Rugby World Cup, which seemed to have everything; drama, excitement, entertainment, record and rib-breakers, blood, sweat and tears! The final between New Zealand and Australia showcased everything that is great about test rugby, and with minutes left in the match, it hung on a knife-edge, and either team could have taken it. However, it was the All Blacks who took the Webb Ellis trophy home, and in doing so, meant they now hold records for being the first side to win back-to-back World Cups, and also the first country to win the tournament three times. They were sensational throughout the tournament, and they proved they could win ugly (semi-final victory over the Springboks) and also turn on the style (demolition of France in quarter-final). It now begs the question; can anyone beat the All Blacks? Well, this will be on everyone’s minds in Britain & Ireland, as the Lions will tour New Zealand in the summer of 2017. We all remember what happened the last time the touring side took on the Kiwis, but at least Dan Carter won't be involved this time... So who do you think will from the starting XV’s of both sides if they were to play each other? With a lot of the All Blacks legends retiring, it might give the British & Irish Lions more of a chance. We will give our opinion on who we feel will earn a place in the teams for the test series. Current injuries will not hinder our views, and we will choose off form from the beginning of the year. New Zealand All Blacks 15. Ben Smith Very difficult to look past Smith, who has been performing at a high standard for as long as we can remember, with the World Cup proving why he is regarded as one of the greatest back-three players in the game. Don’t let his stature fool you, he is powerful, great in the air, and one of the deadliest finishers in the world. Possibles: Beauden Barrett has shown he can cover the fullback position adequately. If Charles Piutau returns from Ulster to his homeland by 2017, he might also be in with a shout. 14. Nehe Milner-Skudder Surely by 2017 Milner-Skudder will be one of the first names on the team-sheet. The winger only made his All Blacks debut in August, but has been incredible since, scoring a brace in that debut, and recently dotting down in the World Cup final. The Hurricanes man could sidestep someone in a phone-box without being touched, he is just incredibly elusive. Possibles: Wing is a position the All Blacks won’t have many concerns in, with plenty of strength in depth. Waisake Naholo could challenge Milner-Skudder for a starting berth, as could George Moala. 13. Malakai Fekitoa There is big pressure on Highlanders centre, Malakai Fekitoa. With Conrad Smith retiring from test rugby after earning 94 caps, Fekitoa knows he has big shoes to fill. However, the outside-centre has shined when being given the chance for the All Blacks. He can beat players with ease through speed and power, and although it may take a while for him to master the 13 position as well as Smith did, he will surely be involved in the Lions series if he keeps playing the way he is for club and country. Possibles: Seta Tamanivalu won with the ITM Cup Player of the Year award in 2014, and has been tipped as the next best thing in New Zealand rugby. 12. Sonny Bill Williams It’s probably wishful thinking to include Williams in this team, as in previous years he has swapped between Union and League rugby at will, but with two Union World Cups to his name, he may well want to add a Lions test series trophy to his ever growing collection of silverware. World renowned for his offloading skills over the years, but the Chiefs man has added a lot more to his game, including knowledge in defence. And he's an all-round good egg! Possibles: Ryan Crotty, though seen as an outside-centre, has already earned 13 caps for the All Blacks, and has stepped in at 12 before. He will be hoping to add to those caps, and the single try he scored against Ireland. 11. Julian Savea Has been a regular starter for the All Blacks ever since his debut against Ireland in 2012, when he scored a hat-trick. Not much has changed since then if we are being honest. The Hurricanes winger has bagged 38 tries in 41 test apperances, which is an incredible feat considering he is still only 25 years old. He has earned his nickname of ‘The Bus’ because of his destructive running in attack, and fierce defence. Possibles: Tevita Li has been very impressive for the Blues, and he has a similar style to Savea, so he might be in with a chance. 10. Beauden Barrett The mercurial Dan Carter has now left test rugby, and the pressure of the fly-half position now rests on younger shoulders. Another difficult position to pick, as it’s another area where New Zealand have some depth. We’ve gone with experience for this one. Beauden Barrett has a World Cup medal to his name, and a World Cup final try, as he dotted down with 2 minutes remaining against the Wallabies. He seems assured in a variety of positions, but may well start to play more regularly in the stand-off spot. Possibles: Lima Sopoaga has already proved he can perform on the top stage, and will push Barrett hard for a starting place, as has Aaron Cruden. Damien McKenzie and Ihaia West are also showing their individual skills at Super rugby level. 9. Aaron Smith Widely regarded as the best scrum-half in world rugby at the moment, it is difficult to look past Aaron Smith for the 9 position. He will be 28 when the Lions pay a visit, and will continue to boss his players around the pitch. Speed at the breakdown in terms of delivery and sniping skills are Smith’s forte, and he will look to carry his current form into the Lions series. Possibles: TJ Perenara and Tawera Kerr-Barlow have both showed their skills in the All Blacks jerseys, and we can’t imagine anyone else would challenge Smith for the 9 jersey, as much as those 2 already have. 8. Kieran Read Read offers so much to the All Blacks, and has been touted as the next captain. The Crusaders player already has two World Cups to his name, and a World Player of the Year award. Can mix guile with power, and is so unpredictable in attack. Possibles: Victor Vito has been backing-up number 8 for the past few years, and can also cover blindside flanker. Steven Luatua is also expected to add to his 14 caps for the All Blacks. 7. Sam Cane We wouldn’t be surprised if Richie McCaw is still playing in 2017, but there has been doubt over his test future, so surely he will have retired by the Lions series? We have gone for Sam Cane, who at 23 years-old, has already captained the All Blacks, and has 31 caps, must be the man who will have to take on the giant responsibility of the number 7 jersey. Possibles: Julian Savea’s brother, Ardie, has been excellent for the Hurricanes, and has been tipped to make his debut for the All Blacks. Crusaders flanker, Matt Todd, also has plenty of leadership skills, and has been under the wing of New Zealand God, Richie McCaw. 6. Jerome Kaino Won’t have youth on his side by the time the Lions tour rolls around, but will still have a lot of what he offers at the moment. Very much an unsung hero of the 2011 and 2015 World Cup wins. A lot of what he does goes unnoticed, but will definitely be appreciated by his teammates. Tireless in attack and defence, Kaino is the glue that holds the forwards together. Possibles: Liam Messam is a definite possibility, but his intention to play sevens rugby hinders his chances. Victor Vito is also more comfortable in the blindside position. 5. Sam Whitelock It seems like Whitelock has been around forever, but it’s easy to forget the lock has only just turned 27. Known for his line-out skills, Whitelock has 73 caps for the All Blacks, and has splintered even the best set-pieces in the world. At 6ft 8, he is a giant, but don’t be fooled into thinking he is a big, clumsy second-row. Whitelock ball-skills are as good as a test centre! Possibles: Luke Romano has always been in the picture for the All Blacks, and covered well during the World Cup. 4. Brodie Retallick The 2014 World Player of the Year, Brodie Retallick just keeps getting better. Carries well, and always knows where to be. Has an incredible engine on him and could probably play two matches in a row on the same day. Will be confident of his place in the All Blacks team for years to come if he keeps playing like he is. Possibles: Dominic Bird is still only 24 and has plenty of time to impress Steve Hansen, especially with him playing alongside Whitelock and Romano. 3. Charlie Faumuina The Auckland Blues man is a big bruiser, with a sidestep like a winger, and although he is yet to feature regularly for the All Blacks, he is sure to make more of an impact in future years. Owen Franks is sure to be there, or thereabouts, but we are backing Faumuina to make more of an impact on test rugby, and add to his 31 caps. Possibles: As mentioned, Owen Franks is sure to not give up his starting berth without a fight, and Nepo Laulala will definitely be in and around the squad. 2. Dane Coles The Hurricanes player is the epitome of the ‘modern day hooker’. He can hit a running line as well as a centre, and has the speed of a full-back. In 36 tests, he has scored 5 tries. Possibles: Codie Taylor burst on to the International stage with a try on debut against Namibia, and will develop well in the next year and a half. 1. Joe Moody With 34 caps for the Crusaders and 11 for New Zealand, you wouldn’t expect Moody to have earned what some players spend a full career trying to achieve. Two Rugby Championship titles and a Rugby World Cup sit in his trophy cabinet, and he will be aiming to take the scalp of the Lions in 2017. Possibles: Wyatt Crockett, though 32 years old, will be hoping to stay fit for the Lions series, as he adds considerable bulk to the forwards pack. British & Irish Lions 15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wales) Had his World Cup dreams dashed by a cruel injury in a warm-up match, but his test form over the past two years has been phenomenal, with dead-eye accuracy from the tee. He doesn’t offer as much with ball in hand where other 15’s might, but he is assured under the high-ball and tackles like his life depended on it. Possibles: Mike Brown (ENG) will feel he can take the 15 jersey off Halfpenny, with some fine attacking performances of recent, the same can be said for Rob Kearney (IRE) and Stuart Hogg (SCO). 14. Anthony Watson (England) Electric quick and has a wicked step, not many defenders like facing up to Watson, and he has proved his worth at Bath, as well as with England. Still young and can only get better. Possibles: Sean Maitland (SCO) knows the New Zealand game better than anyone, having being born there, and through representing the Crusaders for four years. Tommy Bowe (IRE) would also be a possibility, but may have lost a yard of pace by 2017. 13. Jonathan Joseph (England) Didn’t see as much of the Bath man as we would’ve liked in the World Cup, much to England’s disappointment as well we are sure. Yet, his showing in the Six Nations was enough to secure his place in this side. Quick feet and clinical finishing means Joseph is a threat from anywhere on the pitch. Possibles: Jonathan Davies (WAL) has always been a superb player, and will be hoping to get back to his best after recovering from his injury. Mark Bennett (SCO) will also be a player with a great chance, after making quite the impression in the year he has been involved in test rugby. 12Scott Williams (Wales) Has been in the shadow of his countryman, Jamie Roberts, for a while now, but his exceptional performances haven’t went unnoticed, and his strength in both attack and defence will bode the Lions well. Possibles: Robbie Henshaw (IRE) will feel he has enough to make the team, following some fine performances for Ireland, as will Alex Dunbar (SCO) if he returns the player he was before a knee injury. If Henry Slade (ENG) continues to play in midfield, then he may earn a call up. 11. George North (Wales) The fact that North is still only 23, and has already earned 55 caps for his country is a sign of how important he is to the Welsh side. Powerful, but nimble on his feet has allowed the winger to score more than 20 times for his country. Possibles: Liam Williams (Wales) will help himself here as he is versatile in the backline. Simon Zebo (IRE) will also be someone who hopes to tour with the Lions again. 10. Jonathan Sexton (Ireland) Incredibly hard position to choose, especially with how well every fly-half from each home nation has been performing in the past year. Sexton is the complete outside-half, and is regarded as one of the best in his position. Having already won a Lions test series in Australia, he will bring a positive mentality to the team, and successful experience, which is vital in the 10 jersey. Possibles: Dan Biggar (WAL) will surely feel this is his best chance to get on a Lions tour, after his World Cup efforts. George Ford’s (ENG) game management will certainly help him, and Finn Russell’s (SCO) attacking creativity will add something different to the fly-half jersey. There is a lot of strength of depth in this area, which will be a nice bit of food for though for the Lions management. 9. Rhys Webb (Wales) Another position with plenty of strong candidates, with every home nation scrum-half hitting a purple patch at some point in the past 12 months. Webb was sensational in the Six Nations, and throughout the 2014/15 Pro12 campaign with the Ospreys. Webb is a constant threat from the breakdown, and his running lines are always perfect when a break is made. His World Cup was taken away from him, just like his compatriot, Leigh Halfpenny, through injury. Though we are sure he will come back stronger. Possibles: Difficult to leave someone like Greig Laidlaw (SCO) out after his performances in the World Cup, but often his speed of ball can let him down, and our team already has two proven place-kickers. Conor Murray (IRE) would certainly push for a place, as would Gareth Davies (WAL). 8. Taulupe Faletau (Wales) Will carry endlessly throughout the 80 minutes, and always gets over the gainline. He seems the sort of player that will just get on with his business effectively on the pitch, with no qualms. Will not give anything in defence either. Possibles: Billy Vunipola (ENG) is one of the finest ball carriers in Britain, incredibly heavy, but can also pick up some pace when he gets going. Jamie Heaslip (IRE) will feel he still brings something, and David Denton (SCO) might be considered if he can play as well as he did against Australia in the RWC, in every test match. 7. Steffon Armitage (England) This might be a very controversial decision considering the selection policy with players playing overseas. In saying that, no one can deny the talent Armitage has. He has proved himself at the top level of European club rugby, winning three Champions Cups and one Top 14 title. Along with that, he has been nominated for the European Player of the year twice, winning once. He has a very low centre of gravity, meaning he has become an expert in turning over ball. A natural born ‘fetcher’ is a must in a team that wants to slow down opposition play. Possibles: Sam Warburton (WAL) will want to lead the Lions to another series victory, but needs to start playing more rugby and picking up his form of old. John Hardie (SCO) has made a massive impact in the few months he’s been in International rugby, and his native land is New Zealand. 6. Sean O’Brien (Ireland) Has been one of the best ball carriers in the game for a few years now. Was a key figure in the successful Irish teams of 2014 & 2015, and was sorely missed in their RWC quarter-final defeat to Argentina. Is nicknamed ‘the Tulloch tank’, and for obvious reasons. O’Brien will always get over the gainline, and it usually takes two to tackle him. Possibles: Peter O’Mahony and Chris Henry (Both IRE) have both performed admirably when placed in the blindside position, and Dan Lydiate (WAL) is a tackling machine who doesn’t shy down from a battle against the best. 5. Jonny Gray (Scotland) The lock plays like he has played 100 times for his country. Always wants to carry, and is very difficult to take down. His debut in the Six Nations and World Cup are a sign of things to come, as is the fact he’s been handed the captaincy at Glasgow at the age of 21 and calls Scotland’s lineouts. Gray would revel in a British & Irish Lions shirt. Possible captain for the tour. Possibles: Courtney Lawes (ENG) is renowned for his athleticism around the park, and I doubt many would complain if he was included, nor would they if Jonny’s brother, Richie (SCO) was named in the squad. 4. Iain Henderson (Ireland) Much like Gray, he is another second-row who plays tirelessly in defence and attack. Also like Gray, he is still young, having only turned 23 last February. Still has a lot of rugby ahead of him, but with the standards he is setting already, he should be at his peak by Lions time. Possibles: Having captained the Lions in the final test against the Wallabies in 2013, Alun Wyn Jones (WAL) would bring a winning mentality. The Welshman also seems like the kind of man you would be happy to run into battle with. The lock would still only be 31 when the series begins. Joe Launchbury (ENG) is another who will rightly be considered. 3. WP Nel (SCO) The South African born prop, Nel, has been outstanding in both Edinburgh and Scottish since his arrival in 2012. Scott Sio of Australia, who had blown every other prop away in the World Cup, was substituted a broken man after facing the former Cheetahs man in the quarter-final. Has to be a favourite to be selected. Possibles: Samson Lee has earned the right to put his hand up for selection after a good year with the Welsh.  2. Scott Baldwin (Wales) Has progressed well with Wales ever since his debut in 2013. Has ousted former Lion, Richard Hibbard, and seems to be the favoured hooker for Warren Gatland. Does everything you’d want a hooker to do, including accuracy of throw, and go-forward. Possibles: Will be amazed if Rory Best (IRE) is still at the top of the game in two years time, but his World Cup form says a lot about the 33 year-old. The same can be said for centurion, Ross Ford (SCO). 1. Cian Healy (Ireland) Has had an inconsistent international season due to niggling injuries, but when he is fit and at his best, you will struggle to find a more physical prop. Can dominate in the scrum, and certainly doesn’t hold back in the loose. Plus, he takes his Land Rover for long walks on the beach.... Possibles: Al Dickinson (SCO) has probably had his greatest year in a Scottish shirt, so he will hope to take that into the next two years, whilst Jack McGrath (IRE) has also been a stand out performer in Healy’s absence.  Hoping that some leaders step up in the next two years and become an obvious candidate for captain. At the moment, Jonny Sexton and Jonny Gray would be the two men out of that team with the best chance. We think this might be the British & Irish Lions best chance at a win in New Zealand with some of the greats retiring. With two years to go, we can’t wait to see what happens in test rugby until the tour arrives.   Who would you have in your team?

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