New Zealand v British & Irish Lions – 1st Test
Jade Stadium, Christchurch
Saturday 25th June 2005
KO: 7.10pm local time (8.10am BST)
Referee: Joel Jutge (Fra)
Touchjudges: Andrew Cole (Aus), Stuart Dickinson (Aus)
Television Official: Scott Young (Aus)
So, its finally here! The first test between New Zealand and the British & Irish Lions! All the whinging, bickering and sledging stops and it’s all about what happens on the field for the next 80 minutes.
If you read the press out in New Zealand, the Lions don’t have a cat in hells chance of getting a sniff of victory in any of the test matches, but they underestimate this particular animal.
There is anything around 20-40,000 Lions fans descending on Christchurch for this game and memories of the scenes at the Gabba in Brisbane four years ago will undoubtedly be repeated as thousands of fans clamour for tickets right up until kick off.
This perhaps is the ace up the sleeve of the Lions, the 16th man! It is no secret that the World Champion Australians did not know what to do with themselves in that match. They were bamboozled from the moment they walked out onto the pitch and it took them over an hour to impose themselves on that game at all and by which time the Lions had sewn up the victory.
The All Blacks will not be taken by surprise though, they will know what to expect because they have the coach of those 2001 Lions in charge of their side. It is however one thing preparing your side for the onslaught and another actually being out in the middle of it all.
Woodward’s choice of side for the game has raised many an eyebrow amongst Lions fans by selecting Jonny Wilkinson at inside centre and Jason Robinson at full back with Josh Lewsey on the wing. Even before a ball has been kicked it seems as though Woodward is taking on quite a gamble with his team.
The game itself is shaping up to be a fiery encounter and both sides will be looking to dominate proceedings particularly up front. The All Blacks have clearly been working hard on their forward play since the last World Cup with it all geared towards this one series of tests.
The Northern Hemsiphere sides have been traditionally strong up front, but as we’ve seen throughout this tour the kiwi sides they have faced have provided real evidence of how far they have come in 18 months, particularly at the breakdown and at the line out. In the national side this will be replicated ten fold and the Lions are going to have to scrap for every piece of possession if their backs are going to see any of the ball.
The contest at scrum, line out and in the loose will be fascinating to watch particularly within the inidividual battles on display. From Ritchie McCaw and Neil Back to Chris Jack and Paul O’Connell, there are some tantalising match ups all over the park to feast on.
Perhaps the biggest of them all however will be the battle between the two captains at outside centre. Umaga and O’Driscoll will be keen to show the watching world that they are the best in the business at centre and whoever comes out on top on Saturday will carry the bragging rights as well as the test victory, at least until the following week when we do it all again.
The game is drawing nearer by the second and the anticipation is becoming more intense with every passing day. It has been twelve years since the New Zealand public have witnessed the Lions on their home soil and they have so far been fantastic hosts for the Lions and their supporters. They will just be hoping that their side does not extend that hospitality further on the field come Saturday night.
Our Lions-Tour.com prediction is for the Lions to come out all guns blazing taking a slightly under prepared All Black team by surprise pinching the win late in the game by 5 points.