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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

All Blacks' all-round game represents unique challenge for Lions pack

Line-out could be key area

The Lions forwards are put through their scrummaging paces in Auckland
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Selecting a forward pack to take on New Zealand represents a unique challenge. Against Australia it's been shown that it's possible to achieve dominance, as the Lions did in 2013, over the Wallabies' perceived weak scrum. South Africa are known for their powerful forward-based game so you simply have to go in loaded up front.

New Zealand play such an accomplished all-round game that it's hard to pick out one area as a particular weakness to be exploited or an exceptional strength that has to be negated. But Ireland successfully targeted the All Blacks' line-out in their stunning win over the world champions in the autumn, and there also seems to be a leaning towards mobile, ball-carrying forwards such as Jamie George and Kyle Sinckler, both selected ahead of more seasoned England team-mates.

RORY BEST
Hooker
Ulster & Ireland
Caps: 104 Tries: 8 Points: 40

Named Ireland captain in January 2016, Best was at the helm for Ireland's most successful year, which featured victories over South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, a match in which he earned his 100th cap. A late call-up to the 2013 Lions tour, he was not part of the Test team but started two midweek games and captained the side against the Brumbies.

DAN COLE
Prop Leicester & England
C: 77 T: 4 Pts: 20

Long-serving front-rower Cole is one of the few survivors of England's 2011 Rugby World Cup squad and played in every match of the 2017 Six Nations. Came off the bench in all three Lions Tests against Australia in 2013, and made nine appearances in all on that Tour.

TAULUPE FALETAU
Back row Bath & Wales
C: 67 T: 7 Pts: 35

Seen as the last piece of Warren Gatland's jigsaw on the 2013 tour as he missed the first two Tests through injury but started at number eight in the landslide win in the third. Cousin Billy Vunipola was odds-on to deny him the number eight shirt in the first Test in New Zealand, but the England man's withdrawal through injury left Faletau 8-15 to be selected.

TADHG FURLONG
Prop Leinster & Ireland
C: 16 T: 0 Pts: 0

Tight-head earned his debut at the 2015 Rugby World Cup and made his first start in 2016, but proved himself a key man in the autumn internationals that year and started every match of the 2017 Six Nations. Solid scrummager and dynamic ball-carrier.

JAMIE GEORGE
Hooker Saracens & England
C: 17 T: 1 Pts: 5

Earned a Lions spot ahead of England captain and first-choice hooker Dylan Hartley. Although international opportunities have been limited he has established himself as Eddie Jones's 'finisher' having come off the bench in all five Six Nations matches his year, and 167 appearances for Saracens including two European and one domestic crown underline his experience. A mobile hooker with 24 Saracens tries to his name he could prove a value tryscorer interest in midweek games and could even press for a Test start.

JAMES HASKELL
Back row Wasps & England
C: 75 T: 4 Pts: 20

A late call-up for the injured Billy Vunipola, 32-year-old Haskell has enjoyed a renaissance in his England career and was named man of the series in England's 2016 series win in Australia. Super Rugby experience with the Highlanders - for whom he made nine appearances in 2012 - is sure to have been a plus for his selection but more likely to be a midweek than a Test player.

IAIN HENDERSON
Second row Ulster & Ireland
C: 32 T: 5 Pts: 25

Seen as one of the surprise selections in the squad, Henderson may have benefited from his versatility as he can play across the second row and back row, and that may earmark him as a midweek regular. Made only two starts in the 2017 Six Nations but scored the winning try against England in the final match.

MARO ITOJE
Second row Saracens & England
C: 12 T: 0 Pts: 0

Captained England to success at the 2014 Under-20 World Cup and just two years later started all three Tests in Australia and was again ever-present in the 2017 Six Nations. His maturity and level-headed approach have already earmarked him as a future England captain. Odds-on to start the first Test.

ALUN-WYN JONES
Second row
Ospreys & Wales
C: 116 T: 9  Pts: 45

Veteran of two Lions tours and captain for the last, victorious, Test in Australia four years ago for the injured Sam Warburton. Missed part of the end of the season with injury but returned for the Ospreys' Pro12 semi-final defeat to Munster.

GEORGE KRUIS
Second row Saracens & England
C: 20 T: 1 Pts: 5

Established himself as first-choice in England's second row alongside clubmate Maro Itoje before injury ruled him out of this year's Six Nations. A supreme line-out operator and tactician.

COURTNEY LAWES
Second row Northampton & England
C: 58 T: 1 Pts: 5

Big-tackling lock who can also slot into the back row. Edged out of a starting role for England by the Saracens combination of Itoje and Kruis but started all five Six Nations matches this year. Another who may feature more in the midweek team or from the bench due to his versatility. Man of the match in his last three games for Northampton so no doubts about form.

JOE MARLER
Prop Harlequins & England
C: 51 T: 0 Pts: 0

Seems to have come of age this year after only a year ago pulling out of England's tour to Australia. A calmer presence on the field after problems with ill discipline in the past and solid scrummager.

JACK McGRATH
Prop Leinster & Ireland
C: 41 T: 2 Pts: 10

Powerful scrummager but also mobile and quick. Injured his arm early in final match of the season for Leinster - Pro12 semi-final defeat to Scarlets - but since been given the all-clear.

ROSS MORIARTY
Back row Gloucester and Wales
C: 17 T: 2 Pts: 10

Caught the eye in the Six Nations with some ferocious defensive displays, especially against England, as he kept first-choice number eight Taulupe Faletau, who was being eased back from injury, on the bench. Faces tough competition for a Test start but a committed player.

SEAN O’BRIEN
Back row Leinster & Ireland
C: 51 T: 6 Pts: 30

Teak-tough back-rower known for his destructive runs but also a reliable operator in defence with his tackling  and turnover success. Still not fully fit after a calf injury but travelled to New Zealand and reported to be on the brink of returning to full training.

PETER O'MAHONY
Back row Munster & Ireland
C: 40 T: 1 Pts: 5

Combative back-rower with a tireless work rate who plays with his heart on his sleeve. Had to settle for a bench role for Ireland after a long injury lay-off but made a huge impact when starting the final Six Nations against England when Jamie Heaslip was ruled out through injury shortly before kick-off and that one performance may have sealed his selection.

KEN OWENS
Hooker
Scarlets & Wales
C: 50 T: 3 Pts: 15

Called into the Wales squad for the 2011 Rugby World Cup as an uncapped bolter to cover for injuries but has won 50 caps since and been first-choice starter in the number two short over the last year, starting all three Tests in New Zealand last summer and all five Six Nations games this year.

KYLE SINCKLER
Prop Harlequins & England
C: 8 T: 0 Pts: 0

Another bolter in the squad, the Quins prop represented England in an uncapped international against the Barbarians but made his debut for Eddie Jones's team off the bench against South Africa last November. Yet to start a Test but has caught the eye for his destructive runs with ball in hand and can cover plenty of ground at pace.

CJ STANDER
Back row Munster & Ireland
C: 15 T: 6 Pts: 30

Chose to represent Ireland over his native South Africa after waiting patiently to qualify through residency and has made a significant impact since his debut in the 2016 Six Nations. A powerful ball-carrier who could stake a big claim for a Test start.

JUSTIN TIPURIC
Back row Ospreys & Wales
C: 52 T: 4 Pts: 20

Has been unable to nail down a regular starting berth in the Wales back row and has tended to be employed tactically when an attacking game plan is called for. That is a reflection of his speed and workrate

MAKO VUNIPOLA
Prop Saracens & England
C: 45 T: 1 Pts: 5

Powerful loose-head appeared in all three Tests in Australia in 2013. A real wrecking ball in open play and has worked hard on his scrummaging, an area of his game seen as a weak point.

SAM WARBURTON
Back row Cardiff & Wales
C: 76 T: 5 Pts: 25

Captain for the second time but missed out on the victorious third Test in 2013 due to injury and has had spells on the sidelines this season. Replaced by Alun-Wyn Jones as Wales captain for the Six Nations.


*Caps, tries and points are for home nation only (not including Lions) up to June 1, 2017

New Zealand play such an accomplished all-round game that it's hard to pick out one area as a particular weakness
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