All Blacks centre Anton Lienert-Brown has revealed his side will look to capitalise on the absence of Ben Te’o from the Lions midfield as they seek to expose the perceived defensive frailties of twin playmakers Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell.
British & Irish Lions head coach Warren Gatland will play two fly-halves in a 10-12 partnership for tomorrow’s second Test at Westpac Stadium, a do-or-die game for the tourists after they lost the first Test 30-15 at Eden Park last Saturday. Yet the bid to create more attacking options for the Lions backline has been seized on by world champions New Zealand as an opportunity for their own offence with Sexton’s promotion from the bench to fly-half pushing last week’s starting 10 Farrell to inside centre at the expense of Te’o, who must settle for a place on the bench.
Te’o was tasked with containing the offloading game of New Zealand number 12 Sonny Bill Williams and the All Blacks’ midfield partner Lienert-Brown, who will replace the injured Ryan Crotty, believes the former Leinster man’s absence will clear the path to the Lions fly-half’s channel.
“I guess Te’o is probably going to punch the line a bit more,” Lienert-Brown said. “With the two 10s at first and second (five-eighth) they will probably bring a bit more razzle. It means a different mindset in defence — they are going to be showing different pictures so we have to be prepared to look for those.
“That’s a strength of (Te’o’s) and it was part of the game plan to run down that 10 channel. They have two 10s there this week and that could be something we look to expose.”
Lienert-Brown is one of two changes to the New Zealand backline, with Waisake Naholo coming on to the wing as Israel Dagg moves to full-back for the injured Ben Smith, stood down for the rest of the series following a concussion suffered in the first Test.
Dagg believes the Sexton-Farrell combination will mean a busy night in the All Blacks backfield as the Lions up their kicking game in what will be testing conditions, with rain and winds forecast for Wellington around kick-off time.
“They are both great kickers and they have a lot of great vision,” said Dagg, who played against the pair for much of the Lions’ tour game against the Crusaders three weeks ago.
“They have two guys who can play either side of the ruck so as a full-back you have to be working pretty hard either side. It gives them a few options.
“I thought Te’o went pretty well last week. He played well last weekend but they have the luxury of bringing in quality players. Sexton and Farrell are quality 10s. They do have that luxury of chopping and changing. This is going to be make or break for them and for us as well.”
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