The composition of the British and Irish Lions side for the first test against New Zealand at Eden Park on Saturday is being interpreted by some as a bold selection by coach Warren Gatland.

It might have one or two surprises but it signals nothing in terms of a change in tactics by the Lions.

The only realistic way the Lions can hope to beat the All Blacks is by implementing Andy Farrell's defensive strategy to the letter and taking the few chances they will fashion.

They have the talent but not the time to try and match New Zealand's ubiquitous attacking style and Farrell's strategy is central to their efforts because as first an England, and now an Ireland, coach he has worked with 11 out of the starting XV in detail and the rest since the start of the tour.


While the back three of Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson has footballing ability and can counter-attack, they are being picked just as much for their familiarity with the aerial kicking game and their ability to help the Lions' exit strategy from their own half.

Given the way in which the Lions intend to try and squeeze the All Blacks and punish any ill-discipline Daly also has the added advantage of having a boot that puts anything in range from about 55 metres.

In some ways Gatland has chanced upon this combination as the performances by most of the back three contenders has been uneven at best. He must wish this trio had performed earlier in the tour so that they were not going into the first test untried as a unit.

The performance of the front five will go a long way to settling the game but not necessarily in the traditional way. The set piece is an area the Lions will look to exert pressure on the All Blacks but they will not expect to be able to gain enough penalties and points to win the game.

Such pressure will be to try and give the New Zealand backs and back row poorer quality ball than they usually get. The Lions will try to make them move ball against a defensive line which has been quick throughout the Saturday games on tour.

With the leading defender shooting out of the line from outside centre, the Lions will try to make attacks turn back inside where a hard-working front five can take care of the tackling. There will be space outside this curve but floating cut-out passes will have to be very precise not to give interception chances or have the outside runners hit man and ball.

The front five will also have to replicate their defensive performance of the last two weekends. This isn't just a question of stopping runners at the point of contact, it also committing the right number of tacklers to be effective and no more.

If both these demands are met it gives the wider defensive strategy much more chance to work if defenders are not retreating and line speed is not compromised. In turn, this makes competition at the breakdown much easier and by carrying out all these points the Lions will try to deny New Zealand progressively quicker breakdown ball that allows their dangerous runners to make line breaks and players to run aggressive support lines.

In possession, you can expect the Lions to try and spend as little time in their own half as possible and an abrasive kick and chase game will be central to this - even kicking off the front foot will be a tactic to maintain pressure on the New Zealand back three.

The Lions have not come to New Zealand to win friends by playing the sort of rugby you see weekly in Super Rugby. They have come to try and win a test series in testing circumstances which work against them in terms of organisation and limit their abilities to develop a comprehensive game plan.

Their ambitions will be limited to achieving the right result and their best chance comes in the first test.

Unlike 2005, all three games will be competitive and this time the All Blacks will be tested properly.

Brian played 64 Tests for England as a hard-nosed hooker and toured New Zealand with the 1993 Lions