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Lions can prove the tide is turning - Guscott

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    10 Apr 2017     Getty Images

He said in The Rugby Paper that while the Lions were still going through the process of choosing their side, with many positions wide open for consideration, the New Zealanders had been playing like a top club team for years and if fit lock Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick named themselves for their positions.

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"The All Blacks are tried and tested and while they are still going through a stage of delayed impact from the loss of all those world-class superstars since the World Cup, as in past generations, players will come and go but the All Black machine will roll on.

"But they will be coming into the first Test cold and if the Lions can bulldoze them up front, anything is possible," he said.

Guscott said the All Blacks didn't look as unbeatable as they did in the lead-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

"They have still lost only one game in the past two years, but I look at the possible strength in that Lions pack and it can cause New Zealand problems with their mobility combined with powerful ball carriers.

"Man for man, the forward unit [coach Warren] Gatland puts together will more than match New Zealand and the key thing that intrigues me is how NZ cope with the Lions' ferocity.

"They'll come ready to play with an intensity this All Blacks side will not have faced. Ever," he said.
Regular opponents Australia, South Africa and Argentina had been in various states since the World Cup and hadn't pushed the All Blacks.

"But New Zealand always seem to have a tactic to dismantle the opposition and find a way to win. In the past they have combined high intensity with a very low error count, relying on superior skill levels to turn the screw but I'm not sure that will be enough this year," Guscott said.

The Lions from No. 1-23 would not match the All Blacks' skills but they would more than match their intensity, something they hadn't encountered in the past.

"The All Blacks have enjoyed the advantage of having a bench of such high-quality players they would start in most Test teams. This time, the Lions will be able to match that by bringing on their own high-octane replacements," he said.

Sonny Bill Williams' return to action for the Blues was important and Guscott believed he would have a 'huge impact' on the series.

"He's so good that although you know exactly what he's going to do, you still can't stop it. I'd be surprised if he isn't starting at No.12 and offering Beauden Barrett defensive protection and attacking foil," he said.

While the All Blacks had a traditional belief in their superior fitness, Guscott believed the influence of Southern Hemisphere coaches in the north was changing attitudes towards fitness.

"The tide is turning back towards the Northern Hemisphere and now the Lions must go and prove it by being ultra-competitive against the best team in the world," he said.