Newshub Round Table: All Blacks midfield pairing for Lions first Test

Images courtesy of Photosport
Images courtesy of Photosport

There is no doubt that whatever 23 Steve Hansen and his merry men come up with for the first Test against the Lions, great players will miss out.

Be it Matt Todd or Ardie Savea as back-up openside, Liam Sopoaga or Aaron Cruden as cover for Beauden Barrett, or what mix of three supremely talented halfbacks is chosen, the selection panel has options galore.

The Lions head to Kiwi shores trumpeting their depth in the midfield position. Jonathan Joseph was a star for England in the Six Nations, Jonathan Davies has been one of the best centres in the north for almost a decade, Owen Farrell is England's version of Dan Carter and Ben Te'o is apparently a reincarnation of the great Frank Bunce.

So who will the All Blacks' three wise men put up to combat that? We won't know until June but this week on the Newshub Round Table we ask the office for their favoured combinations.

Ollie Ritchie, AM Show/Newshub Sport reporter

Choice: Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty

You only have to look at the gains made in the All Blacks midfield last year to know Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown should retain their spots.

While Crotty has been hampered by injury this season, when we have seen him he's been at his best.

Lienert-Brown benefits from having a guy like Crotty inside him; we saw that first hand last year. This year he's continued his strong attacking game, giving opposition defence headaches with his straight attacking lines.

For me, it needs to be Crotty and Lienert-Brown with George Moala on the bench.

Mike McRoberts, Newshub 6pm presenter

Choice: Ryan Crotty and Sonny Bill Williams

Without doubt our best midfield combinations have been a mix of blockbusting running power and superb distributors with defence nous.

I think we've seen enough of Sonny Bill Williams in his comeback with the Blues to put him straight in at second five and bring the right balance to the backline. I'd have Ryan Crotty at centre, that rock of the mighty Crusaders backline.

Tom Bartlett, Newshub Sport producer

Choice: Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty

Not the biggest duo around, but they more have proved themselves good enough last year and deserve the chance in the first Test. I accept the Lions might direct some heavy traffic in their direction but it won't matter in the end because the All Blacks will score more tries, even if it's wet.

John Day, RadioLIVE rugby reporter

Choice: Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty

Crotty's coming off his best season with the All Blacks where he started 11 Test matches last year, and he's been instrumental in the Crusaders' unbeaten start to the Super Rugby season while plenty of other backline stars have been out injured. Lienert-Brown was the find of the year for the All Blacks in 2016, looking right at home in nine Test matches in his debut season. The bigger the stage, the better the 22-year-old gets, showing plenty of deft touches on attack while providing solid defence in a crucial position. Sonny Bill can provide impact off the bench.

Andrew Gourdie, Newshub Sport presenter

Choice: Anton Lienert-Brown and Sonny Bill Williams

I'd love to see selectors stick with the Ryan Crotty/Anton Lienert-Brown combo that was so impressive late last year, but even more than that I want to see the All Blacks flex their muscles against the Lions. Sonny Bill Williams is a special player and there's time for him to get back to his best with the Blues before the first Test. NZ Rugby re-signed him for moments like this, so he takes his spot at second-five eighth inside Lienert-Brown.

David di Somma, Newshub Sport reporter

Choice: Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty

There is no question that Ngani Laumape is the form midfielder in Super Rugby right now - the way he smashed Ben Smith is one of the more memorable moments of the season so far. In saying that it's very unlikely he'll get a chance against the Lions. The All Blacks are very loyal and that would normally mean Crotty and Lienert-Brown will be the starters against the Lions at Eden Park, with Sonny Bill Williams on the bench.

Ross Karl, Newshub rugby reporter

Choice: Anton Lienert-Brown and Ryan Crotty

If I was selecting the team right now I'd stick with the incumbents. Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienert-Brown were a superb combination on the end-of-year tour and deserve another shot based on that. I would have George Moala as an impact player off the bench. He'd be a beast against tiring defences and can also play wing. However, if Sonny Bill can show some devastating form over the next month, then I'd probably start him at 12.