Rugby: Leigh Halfpenny learns of his call-up to the British and Irish Lions for their Test against the Kiwis
ONE area where the Lions should have an edge on the All Blacks is their goalkicking.
Owen Farrell is a magnificent exponent from all sorts of angles and long range and it is very rare for him to have an off-day as he did against Italy in the Six Nations.
The inside back is a very competent player in most areas of the game and his superb place kicking makes him an invaluable member of any team.
If he’s pitched against Beauden Barrett in the Test series you’d back the All Black five-eighth to have a greater impact except when it comes to converting penalties or conversions.
It’s the one part of Barrett’s game which has some concerns and he’s not doing a lot of match practice now with younger brother Jordie given the job for the Hurricanes.
Fullback Leigh Halfpenny is also very accurate from the tee but he’s unlikely to make the Test side because his all-round game does not have the attacking elements to go with his safe positional play and kicking expertise.
Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg brings the attacking pizzazz but his aerial work and tackling can be hazy.
OTHERS with some sort of X-factor in the Lions touring party are the youngest player Maro Itoje, maybe No 8 Billy Vunipola if he gets in great shape and an all-Irish frontrow of Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best and Jack McGrath.
That’s slim pickings in a touring squad which blew the budget out even further to 41 players when coach Warren Gatland felt he needed more help to cope with the 10-game itinerary.
He wanted the tough schedule to get his squad attuned to conditions and the way the game is played in New Zealand with all five Super Rugby sides and NZ Maori getting a dip at the tourists around the three-Test series.
The Lions will know a great deal about unrelenting pressure, ball movement and ambition to keep the ball in play after they pack up their gear in July to return home.
Some games will be played in wind or rain or both and the Lions may think that will slow the pace and style to the kind of rugby they are more accustomed to.
That was the case a few decades ago but conditions have to be foul for that sort of NZ contest to exist these days and a wet ball is little impediment to skilled sides who want to attack.
ITOJE looks an uncommonly good player and someone who has the experience of captaining England to the under-20s world title in New Zealand three years ago.
He has an impressive physique, is a leader in most of the statistical data and carries an edge about his play in the set-piece, breakdown and tackle which signals winner.
His problem or more pertinently Gatland’s drama will be deciding whether he thinks Itoje’s best position is blindside flanker or lock and how that affects the balance of the team.
The Lions have enough quality locks and with Itoje at blindside, that would create some potent headaches for Jerome Kaino or whomever is wearing the black No 6 jersey.
Vunipola needs plenty of work to get in race trim if he wants to head off Toby Faletau for a run at the Test series and comparison with the rejuvenated Kieran Read.
Up front, Furlong, Best and McGrath have the advantage of familiarity with each other’s play and bring some uncommon scrummaging.
They do the business in the “dark arts,” they love to rumble with the ball but never neglect their primary roles.
Super Rugby: Waratahs captain Michael Hooper has slammed his team’s second half performance in the loss to the Kings.
FINDING some encouragement from the Australian sides gets harder but the Brumbies showed their ability when Joe Powell scored to cap a 95m move which went through a dozen sets of hands.
It was magic but the last of their scoring before the Hurricanes unleashed another blitz.
The gloomiest comment came from Brumbies skipper Sam Carter who said his side was not fit enough to stay with the pace of the game.
The Waratahs… pathetic.
Goodbye Daryl Gibson, farewell half that squad and au revoir to those who say Oz can support five teams.
Originally published as Crucial area that Lions trump All Blacks