Taranaki v British & Irish Lions
Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth
Wednesday 8th June 2005
KO: 7.10pm local time (8.10am BST)
Referee: Kelvin Deaker (NZ)
Touchjudges: Steve Walsh (NZ), Paul Honiss (NZ)
Television Official: Paddy O’Brien (NZ)
So one match down and already two players lighter than we started out with. At this rate, by the time we get to Christchurch we’ll have waved off twelve of our warriors back to Heathrow and welcomed almost a whole teams worth of new arrivals into the fold.
Still New Zealand is no place for the feint hearted and injuries were inevitable along the way and more are sure to come as the first test approaches.
Having given an outing to some of the players who are largely considered to be favouritesfor a test spot against the Bay, the line up for the match against Taranaki has a bit of an experimental feel to it. It’s not dissimilar to the line up that faced Argentina two weeks ago, but crucially some fresh faces have been given the opportunity to show what they can do in a Lions shirt.
Will Greenwood and Ollie Smith make up the centre partnership. With Smith having been one of only a few Lions to play anything like himself in the match at Cardiff, Greenwood will be anxious to show that he is over his recent injury problems and his performance alongside Smith will be worth keeping an eye on.
Andy Titterrell takes his bow in the front row flanked by the two props who will be out to prove they are better players than they alluded to against Argentina, and Charlie Hodgson is set to make his first appearance for the Lions having waited patiently in the wings for his chance.
Taranaki by contrast are a stronger opponent than Bay of Plenty, there are one or two players that will be pressing for All Black contention and a good game against the Lions will do no harm to their claims.
The most recognisable figure is hooker Andrew Hore, who will be looking to build on a solid performance in the All Black trial game and further press for a place in the test side. Chris Masoe also played his part in the Possibles narrow win over the Probables on Friday and will also be looking to add to his claims on Wednesday. Captain Paul Tito was also in action last week playing for the Maori against Fiji in Suva.
Taranaki are a hard and direct side who will be looking to their more experienced players to lead by example on the field. If the trio above can perform to the best of their ability then the Lions will struggle to contain them up front.
With the bulk of the side made up of those that took to the field against Argentina the Lions are going to have to be on the ball from the word go to cast aside any lingering doubts remaining from that match. Some players may not get another opportunity to prove themselves ahead of the tests so it’s time to stand up and be counted.
There is always someone to come from nowhere to play their way into the test team and so far no-one has put their hand up… yet. Our prediction? The Lions to win by 12.