Jeremy Guscott column: Do the Lions have the magic formula to beat All Blacks?

Peter O'Mahony
Ireland's Peter O'Mahony, who captains the Lions on Saturday, is a "force of nature" on the pitch
New Zealand v British and Irish Lions, first Test
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 24 June Kick-off: 08:35 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

When I toured with the British and Irish Lions in 1993 and 1997, coach Ian McGeechan would speak of "Test match warriors".

Warren Gatland's team for Saturday's first Test against New Zealand at Eden Park fits that ideal that 'Geech' wanted.

As expected, the basis of the Test side is the 'Saturday team' that has gone unbeaten so far on tour, recording wins against Super Rugby-leading Crusaders and the New Zealand Maori.

Lions team: Liam Williams (Wales); Anthony Watson (England), Jonathan Davies (Wales), Ben Te'o (England), Elliot Daly (England); Owen Farrell (England), Conor Murray (Ireland); Maka Vunipola (England), Jamie George (England), Tadhg Furlong (Ireland); Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), George Kruis (England); Peter O'Mahony (capt, Ireland), Sean O'Brien (Ireland), Taulupe Faletau (Wales).

However, those victories have not been by as wide a margin as they could have been. The majority of their try-scoring chances have been wasted.

George North, a key figure in Gatland's previous successes with Wales and the Lions, has paid the price. The wing's performances have given away his jersey.

Elliot Daly, whose packed skill-set makes him one of the most complete and versatile backs in world rugby, is the beneficiary.

It is just one big call in a Lions' XV that mixes hard-nosed forward power with clever, incisive runners behind the scrum and it might just prove the magic formula to confound the All Blacks.

Why has O'Mahony been appointed captain?

Sam Warburton trains alongside CJ Stander and Tomas Francis
Sam Warburton (left) trained alongside CJ Stander and Tomas Francis on Thursday, offering opposition to the starting XV

As a former Lion, it is obvious, even from a distance, why Peter O'Mahony has got the role of captain ahead of Sam Warburton, who is on the bench, and Alun Wyn Jones, alongside him on the pitch.

O'Mahony struggled for a starting slot for Ireland for most of this year, but when Jamie Heaslip was injured in the warm-up before Ireland's final Six Nations game against England, he came in and drove Joe Schmidt's side to victory with a man-of-the-match performance.

O'Mahony is a heart-body-and-soul force of nature on the pitch, a born leader who sets the example that inspires his team-mates to give more than they knew they had for the cause.

Munster tweet
Munster tweeted a collage showing O'Mahony leading school, provincial and international teams at different levels
Cork Constitution tweet
...while his amateur side Cork Constitution also delved back through the archives after his selection

He is out of the mould of fellow Lions captains Paul O'Connell, Martin Johnson and Finlay Calder - they don't have to say a great deal, but every word comes with real weight and meaning.

They don't go in for florid pre-match speeches. They are straight, honest, direct and their team-mates appreciate that.

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Lions skipper O'Mahony hopes mentor Foley would be proud

Ireland team-mate Sean O'Brien is getting back to his barnstorming best on the opposite flank, while Taulupe Faletau, who has been excellent for the entire tour, completes the back row.

However, they are up against a phenomenally experienced All Black unit, though. Sam Cane, Jerome Kaino and Kieran Read have a total of 216 caps between them, compared to the Lions trio's 158.

It is the recovery of Read from a broken thumb that is most pleasing for New Zealand coach Steve Hansen.

He is a totem of a player for the All Blacks, as comfortable taking a one-out crash ball into the big fringe tacklers or collecting a 40-yard cross-field kick from Beauden Barrett.

Like so many of these All Blacks, he invariably picks the right option - and that great rugby intuition can trump the best-laid game plans.

Kieran Read
Read has not played since April and trained with his thumb strapped earlier this week

Farrell's form has made him irresistible

One of the stories to emerge from the Lions camp in the early weeks was of Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton jokingly referring to Owen Farrell as a midfielder in training in the hope that Englishman would be deployed at inside centre, where he plays his international rugby, rather than 10, where he earns his crust with Saracens.

No such luck.

When he announced his squad, Gatland pointedly said that Farrell was involved as a fly-half.

Having recovered from a thigh strain, the 25-year-old will carry his team's hopes at 10 with Sexton on the bench.

Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton
Owen Farrell (left) played alongside Johnny Sexton (right) after Stuart Hogg's injury forced a reshuffle in the win over the Crusaders. The experiment has not been repeated

It is Farrell's form that has made him irresistible. He may play at inside centre for England, but he has steered Saracens to back-to-back Champions Cup victories with a string of commanding performances as fly-half.

His confidence is obvious and infectious. You can't say that about Sexton at the moment.

I don't think Farrell is as good a defender as Sexton. While the Leinster man throws himself courageously into the path of heavy-duty runners, Farrell is not the biggest and can get bumped off.

He gets away with it to a degree, because he is alert, well-positioned and radiates a bit of an aura on the field that runners instinctively shy away from.

Whether that will work against All Blacks fly-half Barrett is another matter.

Barrett beat Farrell to the World Player of the Year award in 2016 and is an electrifying runner with the ball in hand as well as a superb all-round footballer.

Thirty of Barrett's 50 Test caps have come as a replacement, but that lop-sided record reflects his apprenticeship under the great Dan Carter.

He will have learned a lot from his predecessor in the All Blacks 10 shirt, but Barrett is a different player to Carter.

Beauden Barrett
Barrett, 26, made his All Blacks debut against Ireland in 2012

Carter was a supreme manipulator of space. He would put people around him into a gap or flummox the defence with the timing of a pass or the accuracy of a kick.

Barrett is more instinctive, sniffing out the slightest sign of weakness - a slight dog leg, a defender whose shoulders have turned the wrong way, a mismatched forward - in an instant as he receives the ball.

He takes that all in, processes it and exploits it with the speed of a supercomputer.

Isolating him in defence is not easy. But the Lions may try to find him and test out any vulnerabilities.

Robbie Henshaw's decisive try in Ireland's win in Chicago in November came via a charge straight up that fly-half channel. That might be the template for the Lions.

Halfpenny omission depletes kicking options

Leigh Halfpenny
Halfpenny, (centre) was named man of the series in the Lions' win over Australia in 2013

I had Leigh Halfpenny nailed on as the Test full-back.

He is the best place-kicker in the world and I would hate to lose a game because it came down to a missed touchline conversion that he might have landed.

Leaving him out is a risk, but it does come with a reward.

Liam Williams, together with wings Daly and Anthony Watson, has been picked to get on the breaks that centres Ben Te'o and Jonathan Davies have been making, and which the team have not been converting into tries.

Halfpenny is not the best attacking full-back, but the Lions starting back three on Saturday will read those chances and react to them faster than we have seen.

Both Watson and Daly can play full-back as well, so, even given the wet forecast for Auckland, I don't think the Lions are any more vulnerable to the All Blacks kicking game.

Ben Smith
Smith returned to action after a concussion, making his comeback in the All Blacks' 78-0 win over Samoa last weekend

The tourists might not be able to make much headway either via that route, though.

New Zealand's Ben Smith, along with Australia's Israel Folau, is the best full-back in the world and a specialist in the position.

He only really established himself as the All Blacks first-choice full-back in 2015, by when he was 29.

But he plays at a consistently high level, making very few mistakes, and is one of the first names on the team sheet.

Lions scrum-half Conor Murray will put up a few competitive box-kicks, but there will be little change out of Smith.

Renewal of league rivalries

Ben Te'o on Sonny Bill Williams
Te'o (kneeling) gets to grips with Williams during the pair's NRL days in Australia

A couple of years ago if you had asked which former South Sydney Rabbitoh would be lining up opposite Sonny Bill Williams in the the first Test, most people would have presumed Sam Burgess - long departed from union - would be the man in question.

Instead Ben Te'o, who took the lower profile route into union via Leinster and Worcester before making his England debut earlier this year, will be at 12.

Te'o has had a great tour. He runs strong lines and has got a good pass on him, even if we don't always see it.

He could do with being bigger and stronger in defence, but he will be buoyed playing against Williams and reigniting their NRL battles.

So who's going to win?

It is so hard to call, but I am backing the Lions to inflict a first defeat on the All Blacks at Eden Park since 1994.

I predict 28-21 to the tourists.

Pick your Lions XV

Who would you select in your Test XV for the Lions?

Use the numbers as they correspond to positions. So, one is loose-head prop, two is hooker, three tight-head prop, four and five are second rows, six is blind-side flanker, seven open-side flanker and eight - well that's the number eight, obviously.

For the backs, nine is scrum-half, 10 fly-half, 11 is left wing, 12 inside centre, 13 outside centre, 14 right wing and 15 is full-back.

Lions tour fixtures
3 JuneProvincial BarbariansWon 13-7
7 JuneBluesLost 22-16
10 JuneCrusadersWon 12-3
13 JuneHighlandersLost 23-22
17 JuneMaori All BlacksWon 32-10
20 JuneChiefsWon 34-6
24 JuneNew Zealand
27 JuneHurricanes
1 JulyNew Zealand
8 JulyNew Zealand

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