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The All Blacks know they're facing a 'world-class' Tadhg Furlong

The scrum will be a major part of the upcoming Lions Test series.

Murray Kinsella reports from Hamilton

THE ALL BLACKS would have watched the Lions scrum with keen interest last Saturday, and probably a little concern too.

The tourists’ pack utterly demolished the Māori All Blacks at set-piece time, with the scrum providing a penalty try and the close-range platform for the Lions’ other five pointer from Maro Itoje.

Tadhg Furlong after the game Furlong was immense last weekend. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

The scrum performance was a potential decisive moment for the upcoming series against the All Blacks. There had been plenty of debate around the scrum in the past week, with Graham Henry even suggesting that it could be a weakness for the Lions.

There was chat about the different refereeing of the gap before engagement too, but the Lions made a dominant statement. Importantly, referee Jaco Peyper – who gave the penalty try on Saturday – is in charge of the first Test test too. The Lions will feel they’ve shown him their legal qualities.

Key to that penalty try and the generally superb performance from the Lions pack last weekend was Irishman Tadhg Furlong, who had one of his best games in a fairly spectacular season so far.

The All Blacks’ tight five has already got a taste for Furlong and the Lions’ ability at scrum time, with most of them having started for the Crusaders in the 12-3 defeat to Warren Gatland’s side two weekends ago.

They know what’s coming from Furlong, with Wyatt Crockett – likely to be on the bench this weekend – well aware of the Wexford man’s class.

“He’s a world-class scrummager, so we knew that going into the game that they were going to be strong up front, with a strong starting 15 and a strong bench, so it’s exciting. I’m excited to go up against them again.

“A lot of people have been kicking the boot into the Lions but we knew that they were going to be tough and they’ll just keep getting better. It makes for a good Test series.”

Lions players celebrate scoring a penalty try The Lions celebrate their penalty try in Rotorua. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Furlong got in the Crusaders’ faces at one stage that night in Christchurch after he had helped the Lions to a scrum penalty but Crockett says there are no grudges and that it was all “good, above-board stuff” between the two packs.

“It was a good old tussle. I’ve propped and scrummaged against a lot of those guys before and it just confirms a few things,” says the All Blacks loosehead. “We’ll study it and hopefully we will make some improvements to see how it goes.”

Another area of concern for the All Blacks will be the Lions’ excellent defence, with just one try conceded in those two Saturday games against the Māori and the Crusaders, who are two superb attacking teams.

Beauden Barrett is likely to feel the brunt of the Lions’ aggression when they don’t have the ball this weekend, but the out-half is excited about the challenge.

“It’s obvious that they are bringing a bit of linespeed, so teams have to adapt to that,” says Barrett. “It is a different style of defence to what we are used to.

“It works for them. I enjoy a challenge and there are different areas of the game where there will be a challenge, so that is just one part of it. It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”

We saw again how threatening Kiwi teams can be with their short attacking kicking last weekend, as a Nehe Milner-Skudder grubber down the Lions’ left-hand side saw George North produce the error that handed Liam Messam a try.

Tadhg Furlong and Sean O'Brien The Lions' pack was muscular against the Maori. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Those grubbers are likely to be part of the All Blacks’ plan, as well as chips and kick passes to the edges, and Steve Hansen’s side will provide the greatest possible test of the Lions’ defence.

“The Lions will be ready and up for it in defence and we’re just going to have to work out what we’ve got to do to negate it,” says centre Anton Lienert-Brown.

“We’ve got a few plans in place but I’m not going to stand here and give it away. There’s times where it went well [against Samoa] and there was times where it didn’t, and we’ll keep working this week to get those times it went right.”

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Murray Kinsella

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