England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has given Lions chief Warren Gatland pointers on what it takes to beat the All Blacks this summer.
He wrote in the Daily Mail: “How to beat the All Blacks? It’s probably the most frequently asked question in rugby.
“I managed back-to-back wins with England, including one on their turf in 2003, but came up well short with the Lions in 2005.
“That New Zealand team 12 years ago was the best I ever encountered as a player or coach but the current All Blacks could potentially match them.
“As you may have noticed I am not a huge fan of meaningless replacements, using the bench just because you can, but this is an occasion where the Lions could really make the bench work for them because they have such a strong group.
“One of my favourite rugby statistics is that in 90 per cent of games between top nations there is one converted try or less between them after 50 minutes.
“In other words there is a 90 per cent chance with 30 minutes to play that the Lions will be within seven points – or even slightly ahead.
“New Zealand above all teams in the world have mastered the art of upping their game – the tempo and intensity – in the final quarter, which is more often than not when they blow the opposition away.
“In their last eight home Tests they have conceded only 24 points in the second half in total. Three points per half! The Wales tour of New Zealand last summer was absolutely the prime example of this.
“Wales gave as good as they got for much of the games and then got picked apart in the latter stages.
The All Blacks bench was man for man far superior, as was their fitness. All this must loom large in Warren Gatland’s mind.
“If the Lions are going to win rather than just be competitive it seems to me they need their ‘greyhounds’ and best athletes on for that last 30 minutes.
“And working back from that I would start with my ‘warrior’ XV, the players who bring physicality and harsh defence to proceedings, the sort of play we saw the Lions employ successfully against the Crusaders and against the Maori.
“On both occasions, two outstanding opposition back lines were totally taken out of the game.
“So at second row I would have George Kruis and Maro Itoje starting, with Iain Henderson adding athleticism off the bench.
“In the back row I would now start with Peter O’Mahony and Sean O’Brien either side of Taulupe Faletau at No.8, with O’Mahony as captain. Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric would have big roles to play off the bench.
“Ideally I would like to bring Warburton, Tipuric and Henderson on with 25-30 minutes to go but as you are obliged to have three specialist front-row forwards on the bench as well that would mean a 6-2 split on the bench, which could be considered pretty risky.
“Would Gatland consider taking that risk I wonder?
“My first-choice front row would be Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong with Jack McGrath, Ken Owens and Kyle Sinckler on the bench if required.
“It is undoubtedly very close between George and Owens though.
To complete my Test XV my back line would be Conor Murray and Owen Farrell – if his quad injury heals – at half-back, Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies in the centre, Leigh Halfpenny at full-back with Liam Williams and Anthony Watson on the wings.
“If Farrell is considered unfit you start with Johnny Sexton and bring Dan Biggar on to the bench.
“If it’s a 6-2 split, Rhys Webb and Biggar would be on the bench, if it’s a 5-3 split I would also include the versatile Elliot Daly.
“The pressure must all be heaped on New Zealand. The Kiwi public expects the All Blacks to win comfortably and there will be huge ramifications if they lose.
“Such a result would hang over their careers for ever, while for the Lions a defeat at Eden Park will soon be forgotten when they return home and concentrate on club duties and the Six Nations.”