Lions 2017: Key battles that could decide the series

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The three-Test series between the British and Irish Lions and New Zealand will pit the world's best against each other.

Up for grabs are the bragging rights and a place in history, with the Lions chasing a first series triumph against the All Blacks since 1971.

While coaches Warren Gatland and Steve Hansen seek to lead their respective sides to glory, there will be some telling tussles that could determine the outcome.

Here, we highlight some of the key battle grounds to look out for when the Lions take on the world champions.

 

LORD OF THE FLY-HALVES

Fine margins could be decisive and that places added emphasis on kicking from the tee. A missed penalty here, a wayward conversion there - it can all add up to a pivotal tally of points that got away.

In that area alone, Jonathan Sexton has the edge over fellow fly-half Beauden Barrett, who is the junior player by a six-year margin.

That added experience also makes Sexton a more rounded number 10 when it comes to the tactical demands of the position, a little more adept at the nuances of the game.

But Barrett, the 2016 World Rugby Player of the Year, embodies a dynamism that makes him a greater threat with the ball in his possession.

The 25-year-old boasts a lethal mixture of pace, pinpoint passing and visionary kicking from hand.

Whereas Hansen may seek to target Sexton, who missed the opening two games of the Six Nations through injury, it is hard to imagine that Gatland will cite Barrett as a potential weakness in the hosts' armour. 

 

CARRYING THE CAPTAIN'S BURDEN

Strong leadership is a necessity in the heat of battle and the captains will carry that burden more than any other player.

In Sam Warburton, the Lions will be skippered by a man who never shirks from his responsibilities, who puts his body on the line without hesitation.

For the 2013 tour of Australia, Warburton - then just 23 - became the youngest Lions captain, but saw injury curtail his involvement during a stunning second-Test display from the Welshman.

Despite fitness concerns heading into this tour, he will be determined to go the distance this time against an All Blacks side led by the formidable Kieran Read.

If Read plays in all three Tests, he will reach 100 caps, fittingly placing him among the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter as New Zealand centurions.

The Crusaders number eight was often the stand-in captain when McCaw was unavailable, with Hansen handing him the armband permanently in 2016.

Integral to his country's stunning 18-match winning streak, Read embodies something quintessentially Kiwi in the way he plays the game.

 

IRELAND KNOW HOW IT'S DONE

That world-record run of victories, later equalled by England, was ended by an Ireland side whose back division is likely to have a strong presence during the Test series.

Gatland favours players who have proven themselves in the biggest games, the toughest moments, and they do not come much bigger and tougher - or more apposite - than facing a New Zealand team in unprecedented form.

That is the challenge Ireland undertook when they met Hansen's men in Chicago late last year, and history was made.

After 111 years of trying, Ireland finally beat the mighty All Blacks and several of the players in that groundbreaking match will try to dish out a repeat dose in the red Lions jersey.

The Irish contingent have the lowdown on how to overcome Hansen's charges. The psychological edge that may afford them could be pivotal.