The lyrics to the popular Split Enz song are fitting for this match. “I See Red, I See Red, I See Red”. A frenetic rock song, it describes both the expected action on the rugby field – and the somewhat clash in team shirts, as the Crusaders v British and Irish Lions match is ready to take fans attention.
Primarily, the action will be centered on the AMI Stadium field on Saturday. The touring British and Irish Lions will be demanding that their side regain a winning edge. After the loss to the Blues [in the first ever Super Rugby clash] the rugby public require a statement. Expect a heightened game, more speed and fans hope for some’frenetic energy’ missing so far. That should be made by the visitors, but……they are facing the Crusaders.
Seven-time Super Rugby champions, and in 2017, a redeemed side. Leading the extremely tough New Zealand conference, they will be the stiffest possible challenge. Quite possibly, why they have been scheduled for primetime Saturday night; 7:35pm.
And with the focus on this fixture, some fans will need to take a double-take, as the players remove their jackets and training gear. The similar colours of jersey might take sometime to distinguish. White shorts will help, with the hosts in a darker shade – but only just.
The on-field action will come from the high performing Super Rugby side who have the services of many of their All Blacks selected this week by Steve Hansen. A dominant pack led by Sam Whitelock, a precocious full back in Israel Dagg, who will be fence-posted by the young and talented Crusaders side.
Third Match of Tour Requires a Compelling Statement from Lions
After the 22-16 loss on Wednesday, Warren Gatland has again rung the changes. His squad rotation now is concluded. Every man will have been utilized come Saturday, and some big names will be present in Christchurch.
Conor Murray and George North, only two of the many talented players who will stretch out for their opening match on tour.
British and Irish Lions – Mako Vunipola, Jamie George, Tadhg Furlong, Alun Wyn Jones (C), George Kruis, Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien Taulupe Faletau, Conor Murray, Owen Farrell, Liam Williams, Ben Te’o, Jonathon Davies, George North, Stuart Hogg.
Replacements: Ken Owens, Jack McGrath, Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, CJ Stander, Rhys Webb, Johnny Sexton, Anthony Watson.
With stand-in skipper Alun Wyn Jones, the side have a third-time Lions tourist who also leads Wales. If he gains some parity against his opposite in Sam Whitelock, then his team will benefit greatly.
Note: Sam Warburton is still nursing an ankle strain he picked up in the tour opener.
Jamie George (see above) has been selected to direct the front-row, and his role will be pivotal. He told journalists this week “You’ve got to look at the improvement from the first game to the second,” George said. “There were huge improvements and the boys are feeling really good.
“We’re getting used to the patterns on attack and how we want to defend, the set piece I thought was fantastic against the Blues. We’re getting better and better and we are hoping to get another big improvement in this third game.”
If those words are to ring true, then the powerful Crusaders pack must be turned. They seem to have the wood over every Super Rugby side, taking a clean sweep of all local derby matches–the final match being in Round 17, July 15.
So a compelling Lions win must be the objective. If only they were not facing the number one side in Super Rugby.
Crusaders Back Line Given Free Reign from Super ‘Restraints’
Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson and his coaching group have achieved much in their first regular season. Amazing, but some would refer to the fresh voices as being critical to that success. And achieving so much, the disruption to the Super Rugby campaign is seen as a curse–yet also as a blessing.
A chance for some to make claim ‘I played the Lions’ will be as enjoyable as the Mitch Hunt drop kick was last week. Robertson spoke of the excitement and thrill of playing the Lions last Saturday. He joked of the nostalgia of watching old Lions games; “the size of those jerseys! They were amazing, but these players will remember this match forever.”
And that is why the reins will be put aside. The players will be invited to enjoy, and to entertain. No risks; beside injury, but each can be sure that whatever the result, men like Richie Mo’unga can demonstrate their skills against an International line-up.
Crusaders – Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock (C), Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Bryn Hall, Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge, David Havili, Jack Goodhue, Seta Tamanivalu, Israel Dagg
Replacements: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Jed Brown, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Tim Bateman.
The only hindrance to a full line-up is the rib-cartilage injury to Ryan Crotty. It places David Havili out of position. While that could be one chink, there are few faults in the red and black team.
‘I See Red’ and Black of Canterbury Meet Lions Crimson Red
Unexpected, but always a possibility, the clash in jersey will only be a side note to the action on the pitch. It might catch some by surprise, but when Last Word on Rugby contacted the touring Lions management, their response was clear.
“There are no other plans than to wear our red Lions jersey.”
This version of the jersey is respective of the 1950’s edition. And while technology will mean it is far removed from that earlier cotton garment, the bright red kit will unfortunately be a clash against the Adidas ‘special edition’ Crusaders shirt above.
Crusaders v British and Irish Lions – Huge Fixture for City
In a way, this is the test match that the South Island missed out on. When the schedule was released in 2016, many were disappointed. On two fronts, the provinces felt let down. On one hand, the lack of provincial fixtures stole much from the long history of Lions tours.
And yes, the lack of games for the smaller centers hurt many. It centered on the Super Rugby franchises, and is going to be a bigger challenge for the touring side–see Wednesday’s result in Auckland.
And secondly, no test matches in the South Island was seen as a ‘slap in the face’. It denied the Mainland rugby fans for that huge fixture, but LWOR can see this clash; and the following match on Tuesday [versus the Highlanders], as close to a test match.
The players will feel the intensity too. And with both sides running out in red; while it might distract a little, the action will be red hot. It could out shine any test, with the hosts playing with their usual high-speed intensity.! A huge fixture awaits locals. Crusaders v British and Irish Lions still holds tradition too.
A pre-match ceremony will mark the occasion. And the Canterbury faithfull can still wear their red and black proudly.
It takes a city to rebuild a Super Rugby franchise: the Crusaders
2017 has seen this proud franchise return to the top of the ladder. They have regained a confidence, and with Scott Robertson and the strength of Sam Whitelock, the region looks strong. So, imagine what it would feel like if they were to beat the British and Irish Lions.
The tourists need this win, no doubt. But for the Christchurch rebuild, it would be a seminal moment in their proud rugby history.
And every Cantabrian will tell you, “we can’t let those Aucklanders be the only franchise to beat the Lions.”
Just wrap-up warm. While the action is red hot, the temperature is set to drop below 7′ degrees Centigrade. Lions supporters will need their mittens for this mid-winter clash.
Crusaders v British and Irish Lions – 7:35pm, AMI Stadium. Christchurch
“Main photo credit”