If the Lions don't roast the Maori All Blacks tonight they should shred their first test selection plans.

A week out from that Eden Park furnace, Warren Gatland has picked most of his test crew to rouse the tour and make a significant statement in Rotorua.

There's a hot pool of backline pizazz loitering in the Maori All Blacks backline but the Lions can put a tourniquet on that lot.

That responsibility falls on the Lions pack and in particular their tight five.


They carry the sheen of Gatland's preferred test quintet and if they are to emphasise that judgment they have to dust up their opposites whose reputations are similar to the Highlanders' pack. You know - big tickers, nothing flashy, hardworking - who can disrupt any distracted opponents.

That midweek energy was too much for the Lions who must find some significant recoil to convince themselves they are making progress and are in tune for the tests.

If the tight five forwards nail their tasks that should point to a victory march and give New Zealand rugby extra anxiety about next Saturday.

If not, it will be a very long week for the visitors.

As rugby around the globe has evened out, stereotypes remain about the grinding Northern Hemisphere power and the Southern Hemisphere froth.

On this tour there has been more consistent evidence of the Lions' backline improvements than their forward muscle. A concerted gleam came against the Crusaders when they squeezed the Super Rugby frontrunners but the other games have been patchy especially up front.

The scrum and lineouts have been so-so and it takes time to find the timing and adjust techniques for those arts among the crme of four nations. Tonight should be different with four Englishmen and Irish tighthead prop Tadhg Furlong pulling on the jerseys with the small numbers.

That familiarity has a background in England's success in the Six Nations and the frontrow with lock George Kruis clicked against the Crusaders. They've gone for the athletic Maro Itoje as his locking sidekick instead of Alun Wyn-Jones while the impressive Courtney Lawes is resting after his midweek head knock.

It's time to uncork some driving play, mauling and backrow play the Lions will need to add to set-piece security when Jaco Peyper blows the start of the first test. Training those moves on the practice ground is fine but they need to be road-tested under pressure against a Maori All Blacks side who will be emotionally ready after a week in camp.

The Lions have endured a pressured few weeks of matches and travel but should be much more in tune with each other and the type of game the coaches want. They are the best professional rugby players who need to adjust quickly to the Lions formula and show that tonight - otherwise Gatland will be forced to go to Plan C.