Lions vs Hurricanes: Midweek stars in last chance saloon
Test defeat will not lead to wholesale changes but the likes of Courtney Lawes and George North hope to stake a claim
The last time the Lions lost the first Test and came back to win the series was against Australia in 1989, and so it will require something special if the 2017 vintage are to turnaround the three Test rubber against the All Blacks. Something very special.
Against New Zealand in Saturday's first Test in Auckland the tourists gave it their best shot - and scored one of the finest tries in their history - but the truth is they just don't have the same quality as their hosts.
They worked themselves into five try-scoring opportunities but took only two of them, criminal wastage against a side New Zealand's quality, who were playing their first serious Test of the year having thrashed Samoa 78-0 in last weekend's loosener.
Yet New Zealand grew into the game after a patchy first half and midway through the second period the Lions were in danger of being blown away at Eden Park. That they kept the score down to a respectable 30-15, with Rhys Webb scoring a late consolation try to go with Sean O'Brien's sensational first-half effort, was more to do with the All Blacks easing off in the final ten minutes as they turned their attention to winning the series in Saturday's second Test.
"We are obviously hugely disappointed with the result but it is important to regroup," said coach Warren Gatland as he named the Lions XV for Tuesday's clash with the Hurricanes. It's the last midweek match of the tour, and realistically the final chance for the 'B' team to state a case for a spot in the Test squad.
"We know there are a lot of players motivated to go out and get a result for the whole group," said Gatland. "A few players put their hands up for selection from [last Tuesday's] the Chiefs game and played their way into the Test team so they know that there is another opportunity for them on Tuesday against the Super Rugby champions."
In truth there are few players in the Lions XV who are in with a serious shout of selection for Saturday's second Test. It wasn't that the tourists played badly, although it was a surprise to see them come off second best at the breakdown and set piece, they just aren't good enough to beat the All Blacks and wholesale changes won't help their cause.
Tour captain Sam Warburton could well be back at the expense of Peter O'Mahony in the back and England second row Maro Itoje - a substitute in the first Test - will probably replace Alun Wyn Jones; a strong midweek performance from Irish lock Iain Henderson or England's Courtney Lawes could earn one of them a place on the bench instead of the Welshman, who struggled with the pace of Saturday's game.
The Hurricanes - who have won 11 of their 14 games this season - have named a strong squad for the game, their ranks boosted by the release from All Black duty of Julian Savea, Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape, while there's also another opportunity for Nehe Milner-Skudder to impress the national selectors as he works his way back to fitness after a lengthy injury absence.
Milner-Skudder and Savea were the All Blacks' wingers during their triumphant 2015 World Cup campaign and they scored fourteen tries in six matches. Marking them on Tuesday will be Scotland's Tommy Seymour and George North of Wales, the latter desperate for a strong game to try and force his way into contention for Saturday's Test.
"There's no hiding away from the fact that this week is very important for us," said Gatland, who has churlishly accused the All Blacks of failing to play "champagne rugby" in the first Test. "The need to get a good performance, a good result, on Tuesday and then to build into Saturday is going to be pretty crucial for us."
British and Irish Lions XV v Hurricanes: Jack Nowell (England), Tommy Seymour (Scotland), Jonathan Joseph (England), Robbie Henshaw (Ireland), George North (Wales), Dan Biggar (Wales), Greig Laidlaw (Scotland), Joe Marler (England), Rory Best (Ireland, captain), Dan Cole (England), Iain Henderson (Ireland), Courtney Lawes (England), James Haskell (England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), CJ Stander (Ireland).
Replacements: Kristian Dacey (Wales), Alan Dell (Scotland), Tomas Francis (Wales), Cory Hill (Wales), George Kruis (England), Gareth Davies (Wales), Finn Russell (Scotland), Jared Payne (Ireland).