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Itoje-Jones pairing can give Lions parity

Sun, Jun 25, 2017, Posted by   print

2007 World Cup

Wales and British & Irish Lions prop Adam Jones has been on two Lions tours — playing in five Tests — and has won 95 caps for Wales. He knows Warren Gatland better than most and understands the challenges and thrills of a Lions tour. Currently in a player-coach role at Harlequins, with over 17 years in the game, Jones’ knowledge of the sport is unrivalled and he gives his expert insight to ESPN.

As they prepare for another tough week in New Zealand, one they hope will end with them back in contention in the Test series, the British & Irish Lions cannot allow themselves to be too negative.

Players who retreat into their shell after one Test loss should not have boarded the plane last month; they have to play the All Blacks again and I’m confident they will be up for the challenge.

The Lions will have a lot of homework to do over the next 24 to 48 hours as coaches and analysts pore over footage in search of chinks in their opponents’ armour.

Obviously New Zealand looked outstanding on Saturday as they put pressure on the Lions with their kicking game while dominating both possession and territory. The tourists must up their share of those particular stats — less than 40 percent in each — while cutting their penalty count from 11 to eight max.

In South Africa in 2009, we knew we had to get the basics right having lost a tight opening Test in Durban.

We needed to stop the Springboks’ driving maul while competing better at the scrum. In the week leading up to that second Test we just concentrated on what we needed to do, rather than worrying too much about our opponents.

We knew that when we got our stuff right our performance would go up a notch.

Sir Ian McGeechan brought myself and Matthew Rees into the front row, while Simon Shaw — one of the best maul defenders in the world — was picked in the second row.

Those moves seemed to pay dividends. We were on top in those aspects of the game and were leading comfortably until we lost five players, including myself, to injury in quick succession.

On that day in Cape Town, Shaw had been selected at the expense of Alun Wyn Jones but I would not drop my former Wales teammate for Saturday’s Test in Wellington.

Maro Itoje, left, came on for Alun Wyn Jones, right, on Saturday but Adam Jones would like to see them start the second Test together. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The All Blacks were very good in the set piece in Auckland. They nullified the Lions’ lineout drive, our biggest threat, with textbook maul-ruck rugby and there will be pressure on forwards coach Steve Borthwick to solve that mystery this week.

There is a clamour for Maro Itoje to come in and personally I would play him and Alun Wyn together. They are both big, athletic men, who are a nuisance at the breakdown and can each call in the lineout which is obviously George Kruis’ main strength.

All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, for me, is on course to become the best second row to ever play the game. He is a different level to anyone I have ever seen in that position.

To combat his threat the Lions will need their two most athletic locks, and in my opinion that is Itoje and Alun Wyn. Kruis has been Borthwick’s go-to lineout guy with England and was a bit of a protégé of his in his earlier days at Saracens so the forwards coach has a tough decision to make.

That dilemma will only intensify if Courtney Lawes — who has been unbelievable on this tour — or Iain Henderson have a big game against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.

Those boys who have ended up in the midweek team will want to finish on a high, especially as there are still two Test matches to come. There is still a chance that you can play your way into the Saturday team.

“North will want to put as much pressure on Warren Gatland as possible”

Adam Jones

The players will understand it’s going to be a tough old game. You only have to look at the phenomenal Canes backline to realise as much.

George North’s match-up with Julian Savea and Nehe Milner-Skudder is going to be particularly interesting.

If George can come out on top then that will push him up the selection pecking order. He would have seen that Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson did pretty well against the All Blacks and he will want to put as much pressure on Warren Gatland as possible.

Above all, it’s about showing some professionalism so that if the call comes then you’re ready.

On Tuesday the boys will want to get on with it and secure a morale-boosting win. You never know how important that could prove come Saturday and the second Test against the All Blacks.

Source Article from http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/19731987/adam-jones-column-british-irish-lions-need-athletic-itoje-jones-combination-combat-retallick-threat
Itoje-Jones pairing can give Lions parity
http://www.espn.co.uk/rugby/story/_/id/19731987/adam-jones-column-british-irish-lions-need-athletic-itoje-jones-combination-combat-retallick-threat
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