Dafydd James says breakdown will be key in series decider between Lions and All Blacks

Matt Jones - Editor 20:19 07/07/2017
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It’s an unchanged side, as expected, for the Lions. You never change a winning side really.

The guys performed exceptionally well last week. Two tries to nil against the mighty All Blacks so they’ll be very focused and driven. They’ll want to go for the jugular and it’s a great opportunity for the Lions, especially with a French referee and the interpretations from the southern to the northern hemisphere. That could be a tricky one with the penalty counts and so on.

However, it’s not about the referee, it’s about the two sides and the All Blacks will be vastly improved on last week. Beauden Barrett, by his own admission, didn’t excel with the boot. He missed three very kickable kicks which could have meant the All Blacks would have won. Subsequently the Lions took the scalp and that was a great win. It kept the series alive and that’s great for spectators and neutrals alike.

It goes down to the wire and Warren Gatland’s going to instill that hard edge approach, that physical confrontation. There were question marks about whether the Lions were offside on a number of occasions with their defensive line, however, you deal with what’s in front of you and the All Blacks will really need to be improved this week.

Losing Sonny Bill Williams was a massive blow to them and playing with 14 men for three quarters of the game was obviously telling towards the end. But they still stuck at it so that’s testament to how good they are.

But the Lions have a great chance. They have the two kicking options at 10 and 12 with Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell. I was surprised that Ben Te’o wasn’t starting the second Test, however, they performed well, created opportunities and there were a couple of line breaks and two well-worked tries for the Lions, which was very impressive.

The All Blacks, as I said though, will be improved. Their defensive qualities will step up a gear. As you know they’re not a side that will lay down and die. They’re very formidable in the breakdown area where Sean O’Brien and Sam Warburton imposed themselves, so they’ll be looking at that and looking to take these guys off and out of the ruck area to stop them causing too many problems. The breakdown area’s going to be massive today. And you’re probably going to see a New Zealand side flying out of the blocks.

I have to say that the Lions have been excellent with their performances, with their defensive qualities and they’ve created chances. Their line breaks were brilliant last week, they were a bit more clinical than they have been, which is great to see. Hopefully we can see a bit more of that.

There’ll be a bit more kicking too.

It’s going to be one hell of an explosive game and I’m looking forward to it immensely. It’s a tough call. It will be very, very close but I predict New Zealand will steal it. 24-18 to the All Blacks.

They’re going back to Eden Park which is a fortress for New Zealand rugby so it’s going to be a humdinger. Fireworks, what an atmosphere. I’d love to be down there, wearing the red and shouting for the Lions.

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