Sport

Gatland has gambled with Test selection

Gatland has gambled with Test selection”

New Zealand skipper Kieran Read insists he is fully fit for Saturday's opening Test against the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park.

The inside back combination of Conor Murray and Owen Farell have also been superb with their tactical kicking, while the hard-running midfield of Jonathan Davies and Ben Te'o have proved the best at giving their side front-foot ball.

"We squeezed the life out of those two teams and we won't stop being aggressive defensively", he said.

Hansen described himself as feeling "cool, calm, and excited" ahead of the first Test against the Lions, the first in a series which, he said, matters as much to the All Blacks as the World Cup.

Hansen named Sonny Bill Williams, with his ability to offload in the tightest situations, and Ryan Crotty, a master reader of the game, as his starting centers.

The All Blacks are strong favourites to defeat the tourists in Auckland and captain Read, who will return to action from a broken thumb, said his side are full of confidence that they can live up to expectations.

His side are unbeaten in 46 Tests at home and have not lost at Eden Park since 1994 - wing Rieko Ioane was born three years later.

Meanwhile Aaron Cruden has beaten a knee injury to take his spot on the bench for the All Blacks.

"To play the All Blacks you have to be bold, you have to take risks", Gatland said. If I'm getting up his nose that's a nice position to be in! With his form for England and Wasps right now, he has to start, whether that is left or right wing. The Lions won the game 41-16.

"I thought rugby was invented in New Zealand growing up", Gatland admitted this week.

Historically, the All Blacks have dominated the Lions, claiming 10 of the previous 11 series and winning 29 of 38 Tests, and Read said defending that record meant a lot. But where the likes of South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Wales, England et al have lacked the depth to finish the job in recent times, particularly in New Zealand, the 358 caps worth of experience and genuine world-class ability suggests the Lions might be able to avoid a similar fate.

"It'll be a battle of contrasting styles which makes it an intriguing Test to prepare for and to be part of".

All Blacks captain facing his most important test.

After impressing in Tuesday's win over Waikato Chiefs, Williams has got the nod in the 15 jersey. Williams was also highly effective in joining the backline from fullback in that match, while remaining solid on defense. "We know there are periods during the game when they nearly go into a lull and they get one opportunity and they nearly ignite, that's when they're most unsafe".

"We saw a year ago he caused the All Blacks problems with his running and attacking game, and when we sat down on Wednesday we asked whether we needed to look at our back-three and we needed to go there and have players who have some footwork and to play some rugby".

That 1971 tour was Gatland's first taste of overseas rugby, in a career that has taken him from New Zealand to the British Isles.



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