Simon Mail previews the opening Test and thinks the British & Irish Lions have their work cut out to stop New Zealand...
"New Zealand have so much pace and ability throughout their backline which is ultimately likely to prove the difference. The Lions are more than capable of making a fist of it but the All Blacks' creativity can tell as the match progresses."
New Zealand v British & Irish Lions
Live on Sky Sports 1
The waiting is finally over this weekend and all the British & Irish Lions' preparation will be put to the stiffest examination. Can Warren Gatland's side upset the odds and overcome the world's best side? It will be tough enough to claim a win over New Zealand let alone clinch a series triumph over three Tests.
The Lions were too strong for Australia four years ago after a 2-1 series win over the Wallabies. But this is a significant step up in class for Gatland and his players against the all-conquering All Blacks. The world champions have no apparent weaknesses, a relentless winning mentality and are overwhelming favourites.
It has certainly not all gone smoothly so far for the Lions with a couple of defeats during the warm-up games. The Blues and the Highlanders both claimed midweek wins over Gatland's side with questions asked about their attack. But recent signs have been more encouraging with convincing victories against the Maori All Blacks and the Chiefs on Tuesday.
Gatland has made a number of bold calls for the first Test and cannot be accused of taking a conservative approach. Peter O'Mahony captains the side with Sam Warburton only on the bench. Liam Williams is surprisingly preferred at full-back to Leigh Halfpenny with Elliot Daly starting on the wing instead of George North. Owen Farrell is fit to start in place of Johnny Sexton at fly-half.
New Zealand remain the gold standard in world rugby and there are no signs the All Blacks are losing their status despite the retirement of outstanding players such as Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Their 78-0 drubbing of Samoa last week underlined the strength in depth in their squad and made it 22 wins from their last 23 matches.
The world champions are boosted by the return to fitness of captain Kieran Read after the number eight recovered from his broken thumb. Head coach Steve Hansen has opted to leave out prolific wing Julian Savea with Rieko Ioane making his first start for the All Blacks. The 20-year-old has been rewarded for his try-scoring performance in the Blues' recent win over the Lions.
The All Blacks have an incredible record at Eden Park having won their last 37 games at the stadium dating back to 1994. This aura of invincibility makes it difficult to bet against them even against a talented Lions side. New Zealand are fancied to win this weekend but their price is predictably short making them a non-starter in the match odds market.
New Zealand have so much pace and ability throughout their backline which is ultimately likely to prove the difference. The Lions are more than capable of making a fist of it but the All Blacks' creativity can tell as the match progresses. It is worth backing the hosts to cover a five-point handicap in the second half with their pressure expected to pay off against a tiring Lions defence.
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2016/17 Rugby P/L