Players ABs and Lions can’t afford to lose...

Thursday May 25, 2017 Written by Published in Rugby Union
Billy Vunipola will miss the Lions tour of New Zealand due to injury. 170524 Billy Vunipola will miss the Lions tour of New Zealand due to injury. 170524

Zinzan Brooke played for the All Blacks between 1987 and 1997, playing 58 tests and 42 matches.

Across the 100 matches, Brooke scored 195 points, made up of 42 tries and three drop goals. He is considered one of the best No.8s to have ever played for the All Blacks with running and kicking skills of a back along with the strength and mobility of a great loose forward. In his exclusive column on, he writes


Up in the North, people are pretty devastated for rampaging loose forward Billy Vunipola, who’s been sidelined by injury.

That got me thinking – who are the three players that would leave the biggest dent in either side if they were ruled out by injury? You’ve got to consider depth and dynamics – two important D-words that could influence the result.

I’ll start off with my All Blacks picks:

Beauden Barrett

Obviously there are some seriously talented candidates at 10, but Barrett brings a considerable amount to the game. For a young bloke, he brings direction as well as some impressive leadership qualities. I’m not saying the other guys aren’t well equipped, but Barrett’s a key lynchpin. Is he above the others at the moment? No question.

Kieran Read

I know he’s already injured, but he’s expected to come right. Captaincy aside he’s the talisman of the forwards. This guy brings plenty of leadership qualities and decision making. He’s seriously influential and a proper workhorse who has a bit of x-factor. I could go on about what makes this guy so good. Would I be scared if he went down at the start of this series? You bet.

Aaron Smith

The forwards and backs need a link, and in Aaron Smith they’ve got someone who can change a game. Again, this is of course no disrespect to TJ Perenara, who is absolute quality. But Aaron’s just got that x-factor presence and one bullet of a pass that can change a game. It’s no surprise I’ve gone for the 8-9-10 combination which All Blacks teams have been so strong and so potent in over decades and decades.

Now for the Lions guys, Again, some fairly big boots to fill if any of them take a hit, I’d call it advantage All Blacks.

Maro Itoje

When you take this bloke out, you know someone can come in and do a job in his place. But Maro’s a special individual. He’s unique really, he’s a big guy who can do a job in the loose forwards. To be fair he’s definitely better suited at lock and that’s where he should stay, but he brings that size and physicality you often expect at 6 or 7. He’s absolutely immense and someone the All Blacks should be wary of.

Stuart Hogg

He’s one of the few Scots in the squad, but he’s a significant player and a good one for the Lions. I think he’s going to have a bearing on the whole if I’m being completely honest with you. He brings a lot to the table – he brings the ball back, handy with the boot, and his counter attacking is very strong. This guy is going to be instrumental in getting behind the All Blacks.

Jonny Sexton and Owen Farrell

I’ve gone against the rules here and I’m picking two blokes who play in that 10 position. When it comes to Jonny, he has quite a bit of experience and he’s one classy player. He’ll be a huge loss if he went down. By the same token, Owen Farrell brings with him a different set of skills, particularly with the boot. I’m going to make a bold call here and say that Farrell’s kicking shades Barrett’s, but his running game is slightly behind Beaudy. Given the style we’re likely to see from the Lions I’d say Farrell has the edge, but only just. Both guys are significant and if both 10s went down it would be a hammer blow to the Lions chances.


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