|New Zealand v British and Irish Lions|
|Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 24 June Kick-off: 08:35 BST|
|Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app|
As final dress rehearsals go, it went pretty well.
After a forgettable first half, the British and Irish Lions blitzed the Chiefs in the second half to run up their biggest scoreline of the tour so far, four days before the first Test against the All Blacks.
In an 11-minute spell – that coincided with the sin-binning of Chiefs flanker Mitchell Brown – the tourists scored 21 unanswered points to put the game out of reach.
This midweek side has not been playing poorly, but they have struggled to close out games. They led by nine points against the Highlanders with 20 minutes to go, but went on to lose.
The week before they were ahead with six minutes to go against the Blues. But that game got away from them as well.
Three days later, the Saturday team shut down the Crusaders in such impressive style and got their feet in the door for Test selection.
Now, the whole squad are heading into the first Test together on a win.
The midweek team clicked in attack to back up their weekend counterparts and earn their own rewards for a defensive performance that has been brilliant across the whole tour.
The scrap for spots
Of course there will be players for whom playing well will mean more than just contributing to the squad morale.
There are still spots to be earned in the matchday 23 for Eden Park.
Presuming that Warren Gatland goes with an eight-man bench that includes two props, a hooker, a second row, a back row and specialist scrum-half and fly-half, Elliot Daly’s all-round ability and versatility could be crucial.
The Wasps man’s pace, understanding of space, handling and long-range goal kicking make him one of the most gifted backline players in the world. He really is that good.
I don’t think that Warren Gatland will stray from the side that beat New Zealand Maori at the weekend for the first Test – beyond possibly recalling Owen Farrell at fly-half should he recover in time from his quad strain.
But Daly’s ability to cover in midfield, as well as across the back three, might give him the advantage over Liam Williams in the race for a final utility back spot.
Jack Nowell scored two good tries, with some sharp pick-and-go work for the first and a fine finish for the second. But the way that Blues wing Rieko Ioane burned him for pace in the Lions match against the Blues will be a difficult concern for the selectors to shake.
Despite that lovely snake-hipped break for Jared Payne’s score, Wales’ Williams is also suffering from the impression left behind in that defeat in Eden Park. Against the Blues, he was uncharacteristically flaky under the high ball, earning a yellow card for twice taking an opponent out in the air.
Second row Courtney Lawes was in contention for a Test start before suffering a concussion against the Highlanders and, on his return, he looked back to his best.
Whether his athleticism and aggression is enough to jump ahead of the experience and nous of Alun Wyn Jones in the ultra-competitive second row selection process is one of several conundrums that Gatland will be wrestling with.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that one.
In 1993, we lost just once coming into the first Test against New Zealand.
But the media there pick up any chance to have a little poke at you. That is what they do.
They are a very knowledgeable rugby country. The majority of the fans, especially the older ones, have a real appreciation for rugby.
But some of the media commentary is a bit one-eyed.
Had the Lions lost today, it would have been a stick to beat the tourists with.
As it is, it will be more passive-aggressive – highlighting the absentees for the Chiefs and that it was rush defence rather than dazzling attacking play that helped the Lions to victory.
There is a bit of hypocrisy there in that the All Blacks create plenty of their chances by dictating the pace of the game through their suffocating defence.
The focus on the tourists will intensify once the Lions announce their matchday 23.
On the 1997 tour of South Africa, we had a code of conduct compiled by the players about how we would react to the announcement of the first Test line-up.
The player who was picked would be humble about the fact, the player who missed out would congratulate him and everyone would get together again and work as one towards winning the first Test.
The formation of those squad rules was one of the scenes in the seminal Living with Lions documentary that covered that tour.
I was wary initially of the project. It was the first time it that had been done and I was a veteran of two previous Lions tours.
But certain lads – most famously John Bentley – were given cameras themselves and it was good fun in the end.
It was very much like the Lions themselves – you have got to trust.
Once we trusted the guys making the film, it all fell into place.
We didn’t notice they were there half the time and they were able to show what it was like on the inside of a Lions camp.
We won of course and that helps! I would love for any 2017 video to have a similar happy ending.
|Lions tour fixtures|
|3 June||Provincial Barbarians||Won 13-7|
|7 June||Blues||Lost 22-16|
|10 June||Crusaders||Won 12-3|
|13 June||Highlanders||Lost 23-22|
|17 June||Maori All Blacks||Won 32-10|
|20 June||Chiefs||Won 34-6|
|24 June||New Zealand|
|1 July||New Zealand|
|8 July||New Zealand|