New Zealand Maori v British & Irish Lions
Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
KO: 7.10pm local time (8.10am BST)
Referee: Steve Walsh (NZ)
Touch Judges: Kelvin Deaker (NZ), Paul Honiss (NZ)
Television Official: Paddy O’Brien (NZ)
So is Sir Clive showing a glimpse of his test hand in this unofficial fourth test against the Maori? The all English front row of Sheridan, Thompson and White, the choice of many to start in the tests, are a formidable trio to take on the likewise impressive Manu, Flynn and Hayman in this test match warm up.
In fact, its not just that they are big imposing scrummagers and ball carriers, we are reliably informed that this is the heaviest Lions front row to ever take to a rugby field at 348kg! Something Graham Henry will be taking note of no doubt.
The Maori side is littered with All Blacks both past and present and it will represent a true test of Woodward’s side seeing as they will front up for the full eight minutes rather than the 60 or so that the Lions have enjoyed in their previous two outings. And if the starting line up isn’t enough of a concern, there is still the small matter of a fresh legged Carlos Spencer, Greg Feek and Daniel Braid to contend with in the latter stages to name just a few.
The Lions too are fielding a virtually full strength side. Aside from the front row combination, the rest of the pack has a pretty meaty feel to it with O’Connell and Shaw in the engine room and with Hill, Williams and Taylor a possible test back row combination.
Behind the scrum we’ll be treated to a first outing for Stephen Jones who arrived late from France and scrum half Matt Dawson will be keen to show the he is still in contention for the test berth alongside Peel and the impressive Chris Cusiter.
Elsewhere in the backline there are the usual certainties in the form of tour captain O’Driscoll and Josh Lewsey who performed so well against the Steamers. Tom Shanklin retains his spot on the wing and is joined by Shane Williams who will be looking to make amends for his poor display in Cardiff. Irish centre Gordon D’Arcy partners O’Driscoll in the midfield and will be keen to re-establish their partnership that has worked so well for both Leinster and Ireland.
It really is a mouth watering occasion to savour and with the Maori’s hungry for their first win over the Lions and many of their squad looking to impress Graham Henry in the hope of making the All Black squad, they will be going all out to spoil the Lions party.
Woodward’s charges are going to have to keep up their intensity for the full eighty minutes if they are going to put the Maori to the sword. The skills, attacking ability and commitment are undoubtedly there and with the noticeable organisation and defensive improvements being made match by match, the Lions should step up a gear once again and put down a marker for the rest of the tour to come.
Our prediction? The Lions to win by a convincing 18 points.