PREVIEW: Crusaders v B&I Lions
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Flyhalf Owen Farrell knows he must recreate his sparkling form for England to get the faltering British and Irish Lions back to winning ways against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The young playmaker has helped Saracens to European Champions Cup glory and guided England to the Six Nations title in each of the last two years.
But he faces one of his biggest challenges on Saturday, his first start of the Lions' New Zealand tour against a Crusaders side studded with All Blacks and unbeaten this year in Super Rugby.
The 25-year-old is under pressure to turn around the Lions' fortunes after a shock 16-22 loss to the Blues on Wednesday.
If he can do so, Farrell would cement his position as one of the Lions' key men for the three-Test series against the World Champion All Blacks.
Despite this week's loss, Farrell said the Lions were improving but admitted the tourists needed to chalk up some wins before the first Test on June 24.
"To concede [a late try] the way we did having fought back twice was disappointing," he said.
"I don't think we would want to go into the Test series having lost five games. Apart from the result, the Blues game was a step in the right direction."
Farrell, rated "one of the top players in Northern Hemisphere rugby" by Lions coach Warren Gatland, begins the game alongside Conor Murray at halfback, with Ben Te'o and Jonathan Davies the centre pairing.
Giant Wales wing George North also makes his first appearance in a backline that looks very much like Gatland's first-choice Test selection.
A second consecutive defeat would hit the Lions hard and they face a tough challenge against a Crusaders side who top the Super Rugby ladder with a perfect record of 14 wins.
Farrell appreciated the difficulty of the task at Christchurch's AMI Stadium.
"It only takes one moment for Crusaders to create something and show how clinical they are," he said.
"We have to make sure we stay in games for 80 minutes. They are a quality side, they've got strengths all over, you only need to look at the team they've announced to see that."
Crusaders are fully loaded to take on the Lions, with All Blacks Joe Moody, Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Luke Romano and captain Samuel Whitelock making up the tight five.
Gatland's side are without injured skipper Sam Warburton, who has a slight ankle strain, as well as Wales duo Ross Moriarty (back) and Dan Biggar (head).
Farrell said: "We're pouring all our efforts into the team. There are plenty of good players in this squad and to see how they go about everything they do is a brilliant way of learning for everybody."
Players to watch:
For Crusaders: The Super Rugby side has an All Black tight five and they have the power to pummel the British and Irish Lions in the set pieces. No.8 Jordan Taufua has been fantastic in open play this season and he is a tough man to contain. in the backline, flyhalf Richie Mo'unga has flourished with his strong pack giving him good quality ball. David Havili, who moves from fullback to inside centre, has been one of the standout performers in Super Rugby this year with his eye for the gap. Havili's midfield partner Jack Goodhue can count himself unlucky to miss out on All Blacks selection. Goodhue has played a key role on defence for the Crusaders this year and his skills on attack has bamboozled many teams.
For British and Irish Lions: Fullback Stuart Hogg has been the best in his position in Europe for quite some time now, while wing George North can give the Crusaders headaches out wide with his pace and power. Flyhalf Owen Farrell is a good tactician and he has a deadly boot on him as well. No.8 Taulupe Faletau was brilliant in that opening game of the series against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians and the Lions will look to him and Sean O'Brien to get them over the advantage line against the Crusaders. The Lions also have a strong looking front row and it will be interesting to see how they gel.
Head to head: Look no further than the battle between the two tight fives. Samuel Whitelock (captain), Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody have laid the platform for the Crusaders' success in Super Rugby this year and they will be asking a lot of questions when they take on George Kruis, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Tadhg Furlong, Jamie George and Mako Vunipola. Owen Farrell and Richie Mo'unga are both intelligent players and they could prove to be the difference on the day. There are also two world-class fullbacks on display in the form of Israel Dagg and Stuart Hogg.
Prediction: This is a powerful Crusaders team who have dominated Super Rugby this year. The New Zealanders are also playing at home, in conditions they are familiar with. The British and Irish Lions will be fired up to make amends for their 16-22 defeat to the Blues, but they will fall short again. The Crusaders will win by 10 points or less.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody,
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Tim Bateman.
British and Irish Lions: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 George Kruis, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (captain), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 2 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 Christiaan Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Anthony Watson.
Date: Saturday, June 10
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (08.35 UK & Ireland time; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be chilly by kick-off time with a temperature of just 3°C. There is also a 10 percent chance of rain with a slight breeze.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Pascal Gauzère (France)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com