Warren Gatland wants more physicality from his British and Irish Lions in this weekend’s second Test against the All Blacks and that desire looks likely to inform his selection for a match they need to win to keep the series alive.
The All Blacks forwards won the battle of the breakdown in their 30-15 first Test victory at Eden Park last weekend and a disappointing showing from Welshman Alun Wyn Jones means an overhaul of the Lions second row is likely.
Maro Itoje is expected to start after bringing his usual energy when he came off the bench in Auckland and strong performances from Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson against the Hurricanes added more alternatives to the mix.
The locking pair impressed Gatland both in contact and with ball in hand in the 31-31 draw with the Super Rugby champions on Tuesday, the final midweek match of the tour.
"I thought Courtney Lawes carried well in the first half," Gatland, who names his second Test side on Thursday, said.
"Lock is a position right from the start that we knew we had a lot of strength in. Those two guys had really strong games to give us food for thought. It will be a toss-up in terms of selection."
Henderson possibly blotted his copybook when he was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle on Jordie Barrett, which allowed the Hurricanes to storm back from 31-17 down.
That ill-discipline could count against the Ulsterman and Lawes coming off in the 54th minute could be a sign that Gatland had seen enough to include him in his second Test squad.
George Kruis organises the lineout, which went well at Eden Park, so should retain his starting spot in the second row with Lawes possibly coming on to the bench and Wyn Jones dropping out of the matchday squad.
The looseforward mix is another area that looks ripe for an overhaul as Gatland seeks more grunt from his pack.
The coach, who lost his biggest ball-carrying threat when No8 Billy Vunipola pulled out of the tour through injury, enjoyed the go-forward the Lions got from CJ Stander and James Haskell against the Hurricanes.
British media reports suggest tour captain Sam Warburton will start the Test in Wellington after coming off the bench for stand-in skipper Peter O’Mahony in Auckland. A straight swap at blindside flanker, with Sean O’Brien retained at openside and Taulupe Faletau slotting in at number eight, would leave Stander disappointed despite some outstanding performances on tour.
With the Test series on the line, Gatland said he had been pleased with the mentality demonstrated by the squad as they regrouped from last weekend’s loss to the All Blacks.
Uncapped centre Ngani Laumape has given Steve Hansen a timely reminder of his attacking abilities as the All Blacks coach looks to replace the injured Ryan Crotty for Saturday’s Test.
Crotty pulled his hamstring in the first Test and Anton Lienert-Brown is expected to partner Sonny Bill Williams in the midfield in Wellington.
Laumape, however, could earn a spot on the bench after he finished a brilliant move by the Hurricanes in their draw with the Lions on Tuesday, smashing Lions flyhalf Dan Biggar out of the way to score.
"He was an absolute wrecking ball," Hurricanes winger Nehe Milner-Skudder said. "It’s pretty easy when you’ve got a guy like him hitting off that first receiver and gets the boys great go-forward."