Lions partnerships and working combinations will all come under scrutiny over the coming weeks. And one of the most pivotal areas, the 10/12/13 Lions midfield axis, is an exciting one to cast our eye over first.
Owen Farrell should start the first Test at fly-half. His vision, playmaking ability and accurate goal kicking will be invaluable. Victorious in the Champions Cup final, Farrell is the in-form number 10.
If Rob Howley and co. want playmakers then it will be Johnny Sexton and Farrell at 10/12. Otherwise Sexton will lose out.
To physically match the likes of Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty, Robbie Henshaw should play outside Farrell. Not a playmaking option, the 102kg Leinster man is a solid defender. Utilised as a wrecking ball, Henshaw gets over the gain-line. The Lions will need a player like him to make ground.
Gatland is a big fan. He even tried to coax Henshaw to play for Wales.
Warren Gatland just keeps on delivering. Here he reveals how he tried to snap up Connacht's Robbie Henshaw for Wales.http://t.co/F5cJbNMoZo
— Simon Thomas (@simonrug) October 30, 2013
Others, like Elliot Daly, may provide impact off the bench. I would be genuinely surprised if Jonathan Davies does not start at 13 on June 24. The form centre in the team, Davies put in a star performance in Scarlet’s victory over Munster in the Pro12 final on Saturday.
Weighing 103kg, the Welshman has power, speed and vision. He also has excellent ball handling skills and starting all three Tests on the previous Lions Tour will aid his chances (he also is Welsh; a huge advantage given the man in charge).
With little preparation before the first Test, building relationships and familiarity will be key. In an area where defence is paramount, trusting your teammates is vital. For this reason Jared Payne will get a chance to partner fellow Irishman Henshaw in midfield. A surprise inclusion for many, I alluded to him touring in a previous article.
Payne is a solid defender. He was a star player in Ireland’s Six Nations victory over England and Ireland’s historic triumph over New Zealand. His defensive prowess cannot be underestimated.
Whatever the set-up, the Lions midfield axis of 10/12/13 will be a major cog in their ability to grind out a result. The games against the New Zealand club sides will show us how structured the British and Irish Lions are. It will also give us clues as to how they will operate.
Trialling combinations is a double-edged sword. What looks great on paper may not transverse on field. We must have confidence in the coaching team and their game plan.
No doubt patriotism will play a part.
We must see the forest through the trees.
Fergal Nolan, Pundit Arena