After the All Blacks’ win, where to now for the Lions?

DECLAN MURPHY Roar Guru

By DECLAN MURPHY, DECLAN MURPHY is a Roar Guru

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    British and Irish Lions players leave the field following their 12-3 win over the Canterbury Crusaders in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, June 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

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    The New Zealand All Blacks have beaten the British and Irish Lions, 30-15, in the first Test of the 2017 series. Although the Lions managed to score one of the great tries, they still went down to a superior New Zealand side.

    The Lions threatened the New Zealand line on occasion and found gaps in their defence, but, like so many times on this tour, they were unable to convert pressure into points, with one glorious exception.

    The Lions almost had a dream start to the match, winger Elliot Daly forced into touch on the New Zealand try line only two minutes into the game. The Lions showed great intent, but it was New Zealand that first got points on the board.

    First, through a penalty by Beauden Barrett. If it could be said that the star out-half had a weakness in his game, it was his kicking but he was sublime on the day, with a perfect record.

    Soon after, the All Blacks scored the first try. New Zealand had been awarded a penalty close to the line. While the Lions players turned, expecting the kick, scrum-half Aaron Smith, pouncing on their lapse, passed the ball to Barrett, who passed to Israel Dagg.

    Dagg through a pass out to hooker Codie Taylor. It was a poor pass, but the hooker showed the skill of an out-half, or a New Zealand front row, by catching the ball off his boot straps and running in to score. I remember seeing the great Australian out-half Mark Ella catch a pass like that on the Wallabies Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland back in 1984.

    New Zealand were leading 10-0, and it looked like they were going to keep piling on the points, but the Lions responded in real style. Liam Williams took the ball in his own 22, found a gap and charged up the field.

    He was caught by the defence but managed to pass on to Daly, who made more ground. Daly passed on to Jonathan Davies, who almost scored but was caught.

    Williams managed to offload to Sean O’Brien who was in support, and had been for the full 80 metres, and O’Brien beat the defenders to score. It will go down as one of the great tries in Lions history. Farrell was unable to add the points, though, and the half finished with New Zealand, 13-8 ahead (with penalties by Barrett and Farrell).

    Codie Taylor All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union 2017

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    New Zealand were dominant in the first half, but the Lions had showed that they weren’t far behind. The second half started like the first, with the Lions been denied a try close to the All Blacks line.

    It was a similar story, though. The Lions found the gaps but were unable to capitalise. New Zealand, in contrast, were more clinical in their play, with young winger Reiko Ioane scoring two tries on his first start for the All Blacks.

    The All Blacks were running away with the game, and it was 30-8 up to the last minute. But the Lions wouldn’t give up and managed to score right on the death, with replacement scrum-half Rhys Webb touching down.

    New Zealand won comfortably, but the Lions showed some deft touches. The Test series is still very much alive. The Lions need to be more clinical in their play and watch their penalty count.

    The question now is what changes need to be made to the Lions team for the second Test. Liam Williams was the star for the Lions, with some lovely running. He made one grave error, where he was unable to collect a high ball, and Ioane pounced to score his second try. Despite the mistake, he should be left where he is for the next Test.

    Both wingers, Daly and Anthony Watson, were great in attack, but caught out in defence. I would still like to see George North get a chance. The giant wing is a big game player.

    Jonathan Davies was another superb performer. The All Blacks seemed unable to contain him and he made yards every time he had the ball. Te’o did a great job of nullifying the great Sonny Bill Williams, rekindling a rivalry from their rugby league days.

    Farrell was unable to get a hold of the game, but neither was Johnny Sexton when he moved into out-half. I believe Warren Gatland may decide to start next week’s Test with Sexton at 10 and Farrell at 12, which would mean moving Te’o to the bench.

    Owen Farrell British and Irish Lions Rugby Union 2017

    (AAP IMAGE/Adam Binns)

    Connor Murray played well, though he was outclassed by his opposite number, Smith. Webb did well when he came on, capped off by scoring a try, but I don’t think he’s good enough to start the second Test. Great impact sub, though.

    The pack were outclassed on the day, unable to get a firm hold of the game. Vunipola and Furlong didn’t have their usual impact and Kyle Sinkler did some damage when he came on as a replacement. There’s nothing between Jamie George and Ken Owens at hooker.

    The pace of the game seemed to be beyond Alun Wyn Jones, and he was visibly struggling to keep up with it. George Kruis didn’t have a great game, and he is on the bench for Tuesday’s game against the Hurricanes. Maro Itoje should get a chance from the start next week to have an affect on the game.

    Sean O’Brien was the best of the Lions’ pack, being destructive in defence and attack all over the field. Peter O’Mahony wasn’t his usual dominant presence and Taulupe Faletau was outclassed by Kieran Reed. The New Zealand captain was a colossus in his first game back after breaking his thumb six weeks ago.

    I would like to see a back row of Peter O’Mahony, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien – that would be an exciting combination.

    The Lions are still in with a chance of winning the Test series, but the advantage is with New Zealand. It’s always easier when you’re 1-0 up in a series.

    Only once have the Lions come back and win a Test series after losing the opening game. That was in 1989, the great series against Australia. The Lions had lost the first Test but changed their team, and their tactics, and won the last two Tests and the series.

    The Lions were helped in the last Test by the great David Campese, who made one of the most memorable errors in sport, where he tried to run the ball from his own line and was caught, allowing Ieuan Evans to score. A mistake from one of the true greats in rugby.

    That Australian side went on to win the World Cup two years later, which shows what a strong team they were and what a great victory by the Lions it was.

    The 2017 Lions can still win the series, but not if they don’t watch their mistakes, keep their penalty count low and finish attacking moves with the ball on the opposing try line.

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    The Crowd Says (64)

    • Roar Guru

      June 26th 2017 @ 8:52am
      Ralph said | June 26th 2017 @ 8:52am | ! Report

      Great summary Declan, nothing much to add except that Jaco had a good match and managed to navigate what could have been a few rocky moments.

      So it’s all ahead of them now – which camp are you Declan, change the game plan or sharpen up what they have?

      What a great match it was.

    • June 26th 2017 @ 10:26am
      Ryan said | June 26th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

      Declan – you’re dreamin, ALL BLACKS clean sweep is a foregone conclusion. Too much skill, agility and mental fortitude.

      • June 26th 2017 @ 10:52am
        skillz said | June 26th 2017 @ 10:52am | ! Report

        Hey Ryan,

        The capslock was unnecessary.

        • June 26th 2017 @ 1:06pm
          Ryan said | June 26th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

          WORLD CHAMPION emphasis.

          • June 26th 2017 @ 1:15pm
            Ouch said | June 26th 2017 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

            Blow me down, I was unaware that the All Blacks were world champions.

            Thanks for clearing that up Ryan.

            You really should trumpet that fact a bit more.

            I doubt the rest of the world knows the All Black are world champions either.

            • Roar Rookie

              June 26th 2017 @ 2:03pm
              piru said | June 26th 2017 @ 2:03pm | ! Report

              Ryan, you know you’re not allowed to mention world championships – it makes the other countries feel inadequate.

              • June 26th 2017 @ 9:28pm
                Mitcho said | June 26th 2017 @ 9:28pm | ! Report

                Piru I was on holiday in nz in 2005 or there abouts. Posters everywhere proclaiming the home of the world champs. I had a chuckle thinking that was 87 and oz has was won two since then. Times have changed but it was funny.

              • June 27th 2017 @ 11:20am
                Crustymtb said | June 27th 2017 @ 11:20am | ! Report

                I lived in England in 2003 to 2005 and they banned on about being world champs despite losing everything and saying “if only Jonny was fit…”

              • June 27th 2017 @ 3:31pm
                jake said | June 27th 2017 @ 3:31pm | ! Report

                Speak for yourself piru.

                The Oz world championship cabinet dwarfs the tiny little kiwi one. In fact, i doubt the kiwi one is even a cabinet. A dressing table perhaps?
                What is it for you guys? 3 x rugby, 1 x league, anything else?

                By comparison; 2 x rugby, 5 x cricket, 11 x league. The Oz cricket team has won more than NZ as a whole.

                The difference is we aren’t insecure and need to mention our sporting achievements in every 2nd breath.

      • Roar Guru

        June 26th 2017 @ 4:09pm
        Wal said | June 26th 2017 @ 4:09pm | ! Report

        Nothing in sport is a foregone conclusion.
        If it is, have you bet your house on the AB’s going 3-0 @ $1.25?
        25% for 2 weeks is very good return on a safe investment

    • June 26th 2017 @ 11:02am
      R2D2 said | June 26th 2017 @ 11:02am | ! Report

      Gatland has to make the Lions play “champagne rugby” to beat the ABs, because the ABs won’t do it and make mistakes. The ABs played a brilliant tactical game and it was ironic that their third try was from a bomb that the Lions couldn’t control. The test series is not over , but Gatland will not be pulling any punches both in game plan or media tantrums…he can’t afford to, but his options are limited .

    • June 26th 2017 @ 11:37am
      Mike Julz said | June 26th 2017 @ 11:37am | ! Report

      The Lions just needs to complete that last pass. They got good clean breaks, including the one in the 2nd half which is almost similar to their first try. You can blame the ABs scramble defense for that, but if they manage to keep supporting the runner and then make that last pass or offload in hand, they would’ve converted at least 3 tries in that match. Thats something they gotta work on in the 2nd test.

      But they should have Halfpenny at 15, Webb at 9, and Itorje at lock, keep the rest.

      • June 27th 2017 @ 6:34am
        Uncle Eric said | June 27th 2017 @ 6:34am | ! Report

        You’ve hit the nail on the head Mike. Too many mistakes at critical times, that comes down to skills and fitness and in both areas the Lions are lacking it would appear. I wonder how the Lions would have coped if it lost two critical players in quick succession as the ABs did? My suspicion is the team would have lost by a considerably bigger margin if it had.

    • June 26th 2017 @ 11:43am
      Highlander said | June 26th 2017 @ 11:43am | ! Report

      Williams dropped 3 high balls, not just the one that cost a try, and you would keep the lowest impact loose forward and drop a guy who made 21 tackles?
      Interesting choice.

      • June 26th 2017 @ 12:10pm
        Highlander said | June 26th 2017 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

        oops, too slow on the edit button, a good summary of the real selection dilemmas coach Gatland has for Saturday

    • June 26th 2017 @ 11:55am
      Riccardo said | June 26th 2017 @ 11:55am | ! Report

      Onya Declan.

      Terrific game of football. The Lions are to be commended for their endeavour.

      Firstly I’d jettison AWJ from the 23. Great player that he was he couldn’t cope with the pace having got a knock early on. Itoje’s more physical presence was obvious. Is Lawes fit?

      Is North the right investment? Big game player I guess but his tour has been unremarkable so far. So North, Williams and Watson at the back then? Williams was again impressive and I recall him giving the All Blacks some trouble for Wales when they last toured. Aerial work for all three tho.

      Centres is a tough call. I’m not a huge fan of the dual play-maker role and thought Teo had a pretty decent outing. Same with Davies who made ground every time he had the ball.

      Personally I’d stick with Sexton starting outside Murray as the halves. Their established partnership may yield more early dividends if their forwards give them some time to operate.

      Back row. Well, O’Brien has to stay doesn’t he. Did Sam do enough from the pine to displace O’Mahony? Not sure on that. Faletau may need to make way, for Stander, probably. But it’s worth remembering that Toby topped the tackle count. Careful what you wish for.

      The tight five will be bolstered by Itoje’s strength and they will be a little shell-shocked at how they were bettered by the All Blacks but unless you’re swapping with the bench it’s probably the best available.

      They just need to work harder. Wellington will be a notch faster again.

      But the biggest thing I’d be encouraging is support play. Several opportunities went begging and that’s not good enough at this level.

      • June 26th 2017 @ 1:52pm
        moaman said | June 26th 2017 @ 1:52pm | ! Report

        Great comment Ric…disagree about Faletau, they need him.
        Also think front row needs a tweak.ABs owned them.

        • June 26th 2017 @ 2:11pm
          Fionn said | June 26th 2017 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

          I don’t think Vunipola is up to facing the ABs scrum.

          McGrath perhaps?

          • June 26th 2017 @ 7:27pm
            Colin N said | June 26th 2017 @ 7:27pm | ! Report

            In the first scrum after Vunipola went off, it went backwards and New Zealand scored a try.

            I do very much see the point about starting McGrath and bringing Vunipola on for impact, but the England player has been the best loosehead on tour by quite some distance.

            • June 26th 2017 @ 9:37pm
              Mitcho said | June 26th 2017 @ 9:37pm | ! Report

              Few seasons back vunipola was an ordinary scrummager but in for his carries. Surely lions better off with a strong scrum. Agree itoji has to come in to start. Teoh did alright but need a creative fly half. Lions could have carried a guy like ford. Wasted opportunity not to pick him. England will be taking notes. Abs have no actual weaknesses though.

      • June 26th 2017 @ 3:00pm
        Akari said | June 26th 2017 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

        Good post, Riccardo. Agree to all points except I thought Stander was a shoo-in for the 1st test run-on 15 and there may not now be any room for him with (to me) the bizarre appointment of O’Mahony as captain for that test. If Warburton is promoted into the run-on 15 in the next test, should O’M be demoted to the pine or, worse, out of the 23?

        I think it will be very difficult to encourage support play when the emphasis in the Lions game plan thus far has been on a very fast defensive line-speed. This kind of tactic constitutes of a reactionary mindset to what the opposition might bring and requires a speed of a mind reset when in attack mode. Only the ABs have the latter in abundance hence their dangerous ability to score tries galore from broken play.

        @ moaman
        If I recall correctly, the Saders bench shoved Marler and Coles from the Lions 10 metre line to their 22 in one scrum (with a little exaggeration here but you get the point). Or was it Marler and Sinckler? I just don’t know whether it matters who they bring into the scrum.

        • June 26th 2017 @ 3:01pm
          Fionn said | June 26th 2017 @ 3:01pm | ! Report

          O’Mahony didn’t have his best game on Saturday, but he is absolute class, Akari.

          Not such a good ball runner as Stander, but, to me, better at everything else.

          • June 26th 2017 @ 3:22pm
            Akari said | June 26th 2017 @ 3:22pm | ! Report

            O’M and the Lions pack didn’t have their best game on Saturday and the game plan may well have been at fault IMO as the team trained for and were expecting an ABs attack plan that never eventuated.

            I don’t know much about O’M and I am happy to accept your word that he is absolute class. My bad as you’ve probably explained in a nutshell why Gats made him captain.

            Isn’t it great that the Fisher man is back where he belongs? He should be brought into the Brumbies coaching team right now.

            • June 26th 2017 @ 3:26pm
              Fionn said | June 26th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

              It’s an interesting question, hey.

              My cousin in Ireland assured me that he is going to be made the next longterm Irish captain in the next year or so.

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