Lions series reflections: The day of the Faz

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    At the Allianz stadium in North London, home of European champion club Saracens, the core of the faithful have a unique way of assisting attempts on goal by their own kickers.

    They close their eyes, extend their arms in mock supplication and look to inspire with ‘spirit fingers’ tingling towards the ball.

    Typically, their head-wear of preference is the fez.

    It is doubtful whether this concentration of psychic energy has ever really helped Owen Farrell boot a goal over the back dot. But the influence of Saracens as a club on Owen’s father, the British and Irish Lions defensive mastermind Andy Farrell, is much less open to speculation.

    It is where ‘Big Faz’ first cut his teeth as both a rugby union player and coach. After a long and distinguished career in league, during which he became the youngest-ever Great Britain captain and twice won the coveted Man of Steel award as the outstanding player in the UK, he finally crossed the border between the codes in his thirties.

    His best years as a player were well behind him, but his frustrations only fed his desire to succeed as a coach. Midway through his spell as defence coach of England in the Stuart Lancaster era (2011-2015) he was shrewdly enlisted as Lions defence coach by Warren Gatland for the tour of Australia.

    The Lions won that series and they only conceded four tries over the three Tests in the process of doing it. Wind the clock on another four years, and Faz has managed to pull off the same trick in a much sterner rugby environment Down Under.

    New Zealand 2016 (v.all) v.Ireland (2016) v.Lions (2017)
    Tries scored (average per game) 5.71 3.5 1.67
    Points scored (average per game) 40 25 22

    Of the four games (out of 14) in 2016, in which the All Blacks were held to scoring less than 30 points, two of those occurred against Ireland with Farrell as their defence coach.

    Against Ireland, New Zealand managed 61 per cent of their average try- and points-scoring expectation over the whole of the year.

    With better quality personnel to work with, Farrell went one step further with the 2017 Lions. They allowed seven tries in their six Saturday matches in New Zealand, and only conceded five tries in the three Tests.

    New Zealand’s five tries represented less than one-third of their total against the last Gatland-managed team to visit New Zealand, Wales in June 2016. Then, the All Blacks had scored 16 tries in three games against the Welsh rush defence coached by Shaun Edwards.

    It is not as if Farrell’s defence was not under any pressure. With New Zealand enjoying 58 per cent territory and 60 per cent possession over the three games and emerging from the overall penalty count five to the good, the All Blacks had most of the ball they wanted in the right attacking positions on the field.

    It is no exaggeration to say that the coach who made all the difference to the performance of the 2017 Lions was Farrell. He is the outstanding defensive planner and coach in world rugby. Without him, the Lions would not have come near to drawing the series, and the seeds of Gatland’s excellent tour management skills would have fallen on stony ground.

    The restarts from the final Test at Eden Park provide some excellent examples of how Farrell’s defence never allowed the All Blacks to enjoy an undisputed advantage from the ball they won back from kicks or turnovers.

    New Zealand have always been world leaders at creating unstructured attacking opportunities from kick-offs, and the way in which they went about their business at Eden Park made for fascinating viewing.

    The first All Blacks’ restart occurred in the 21st minute of the first half:

    There are threats spread wide to both sides of the kick-off in the first frame at 20:44. The 6’5” frame of full-back Jordie Barrett has been added to the tight forwards on the left, while #8 Kieran Read is split out towards the near-side touch-line alongside Israel Dagg to provide options on the other side.

    This formation has already forced the Lions into some uncomfortable defensive adjustments. Two the Lions best aerial athletes (Liam Williams and right wing Anthony Watson) have been drawn across to the (New Zealand) right to cover the threat of Read and Dagg, which means that all of the Lions back three are effectively defending on one side of the field.

    The kick-off is short left, with Jordie Barrett cleverly inserting himself into the space between Maro Itoje and his intended rear lifter (Tadhg Furlong) to win the ball back. It was one of two occasions where the All Blacks used Barrett’s height to repossess ball straight from the KO during the game.

    As soon as the ball is spun out to the All Blacks’ right, a situation of real danger has been created for the Lions at the first breakdown (20:54). Watson has been absorbed in the tackle, Daly is in line close to the ruck and Liam Williams has dropped back into the left half of the backfield.

    This leaves #12 Owen Farrell out on his own near the right-hand touch, contemplating the tackle he might have to make on Julian Savea, if ‘The Bus’ should receive the ball in space. When Savea does get the ball directly from a Beauden Barrett cross-kick on the next play, all Farrell can do is watch in admiration as Savea races away down the left side-line.

    It is here that the quality of the Lions scramble defence asserts itself. The line has been broken, but none of Farrell, #1 Mako Vunipola or #9 Murray (coming from the far side of the field) have given up on the play. By the time Savea has ploughed Liam Williams out of the way, Farrell is back in position to make a tackle while Vunipola and Murray are saturating the inside support lanes so there can be no killing offload (21:07).

    This was a recurring theme throughout the game:

    In the first sequence, as Beauden Barrett is tackled by Williams after making the intercept near the New Zealand goal-line, the All Black support (with Laumape and Savea closest to the ball) is in prime position to continue the movement and score:

    But by the time Laumape has been run down by Jonathan Davies, Anthony Watson has overhauled Savea (after spotting him a five-metre start) and is blocking the critical support channel

    The Lions’ ability to scramble and own the support channels was one of their many defensive virtues. They made concrete and sensible adjustments as the ‘chess game’ from Kiwi restarts developed in the course of the match:

    After the initial disaster in the 21st minute, the Lions have adapted, with Daly moving back to the left and Antony Watson now positioned at fullback on the right-hand side of midfield as Liam Williams catches the KO under pressure from Kieran Read.

    The contest between Read and Williams under All Black kick-offs was one of the most compelling of the micro-dramas threading the game. Williams wins this one, and at the beginning of the second half, he earns a penalty after Read is hauled back for obstruction when the KO fails to go ten metres (see the highlight reel at 40:02). Elliott Daly kicked the goal from fully 55 metres out to get the Lions back in the match.

    The dénouement to that drama had the grandest of implications for the result of the series as a whole. With the scores locked at 15-15 and less than three minutes to play, New Zealand again kicked off with the intention of giving Read an aerial one-on-one with Williams:

    We were well aware of Kieran Read’s tendencies in these situations in the England camp as long ago as 2012. He tends to ‘sail’ into the receiver at the very end of his reach, and this can mean a heavy contact with the opponent in the air:

    (England-New Zealand 2012, @33:25 on the clock.)

    In this example, Read is over-extended and sails into Joe Launchbury as he goes up for the ball. Launchbury ends up on his back with the wind knocked out of him. Referee George Clancy gives England a penalty, explaining that Read was “in the air way too early” and that the contact is dangerous, while the two (New Zealand) commentators assess it as a fair contest for the ball.

    A similar scenario arose on Saturday evening. Read contests the ball at the very outermost limit of his reach and the impact of the challenge knocks Williams all the way back from the ‘L’ in Life to the ‘n’ in Standard. The challenge has at best to be at the edge of legality, but in this instance referee Romain Poite allowed it (even after review).

    It also has a critical spin-off effect, by propelling Williams back behind the point of the catch so that it appears (but only appears) that Ken Owens has caught the ball in front of him. In fact, the ball has gone backwards off Williams, and it first makes contact with Owens between the ‘r’ and ‘d’ of Standard – which in turn renders the whole argument about whether he is offside moot. Play should have been allowed to continue, at least once Poite had decided not to penalise Kieran Read for a ‘charging foul’.

    Summary:
    If a drawn series can truly belong to anyone, it has to belong to Andy Farrell, who had the outstanding coaching impact of anyone on the two rival teams throughout. Saturday at Eden Park was indeed the ‘Day of the Faz’.

    Farrell has done what very few believed was possible – to restrict a try-happy New Zealand side to under two tries per game in a three-match series. It was his defence which kept the Lions in the hunt when all the key stats (territory, possession and penalty count) went against them.

    I am happy that the outcome of the series was not decided by a refereeing technicality (and an incorrect one at that). I have not always been enamoured of Poite’s style of refereeing, with its brutal punishment of technical offences at the scrum, but at Eden Park he went against type, awarding four penalties in twenty scrums and only 14 penalties in total.

    At the same time, he followed the example of Nigel Owens (in general) and Craig Joubert (at the 2011 World Cup final) in staying out of the way at the critical time of the game, awarding just three penalties (one kickable to each side) in the final quarter.

    It was not a series that deserved to be resolved by technical penalty. The five-to-four try count over the three games is probably a fair reflection of the All Blacks’ slight superiority, but tactically they never confounded the Lions beyond repair, and they never broke their spirit. A draw was an honourable result.

    The Faz had an awful lot to do with that.

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick’s latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled “The Iron Curtain”. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (324)

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2017 @ 7:53am
      Sam Taulelei said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      The Faz definitely has created a challenge for this All Blacks team in learning how to break down the best defensive system in world rugby.

      Steve Borthwick also deserves credit for how the Lions lineout defended the All Blacks throw. Combined with the Lions linespeed, the All Blacks couldn’t take as much advantage from quick ball won from the top.

      One caveat, the All Blacks committed more handling errors in that first half than you’d expect from the best in the business, not all were forced by Lions pressure.

      Fascinated to see how the All Blacks coaches respond to the challenge in the future now that sides will look to follow the Lions cues.

      • Columnist

        July 12th 2017 @ 8:00am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:00am | ! Report

        Yes Sam, and you need that North-South ‘dialogue’ ( or at least someone able to challenge the AB’s on the coaching front) in order to improve the game and make it more interesting…

        From what I understand Steve Borthwick also had a rather large hand to play in the improvement of the midweek side. He also made a good fist of the Lions Test lineout even after it had been deprived of two key pieces in George Kruis and Peter O’Mahony.

        I think the pressure can come directly and indirectly. Indirectly, from the tight nature of the games and the fact that the AB’s never ran away from the Lions om the scoreboard.

        • July 12th 2017 @ 8:42am
          Exile in Oz said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:42am | ! Report

          Hi Nick,
          Thanks for the great series of articles.
          How would you go about breaking down this defence? Have there been teams up north that are better at combatting it and if so what do they do?

          • Columnist

            July 12th 2017 @ 8:54am
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:54am | ! Report

            I wrote some articles on The Rugby Site that illustrated some possibilities… check em out!

            • July 12th 2017 @ 9:18am
              Exile in Oz said | July 12th 2017 @ 9:18am | ! Report

              Another good series of articles. On reflection the disruption to the AB’s mid-field combinations and therefore the communication of attacking options inwards might have had a larger impact than I initially thought.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 7:54am
      Fionn said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

      Cheers for your commentary over the series, Nick, really appreciated it.

      Would be nice if Farrell would consider coming to Aus… But hey, at least the Wallabies have Nathan Gray..

      • Columnist

        July 12th 2017 @ 8:01am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:01am | ! Report

        No worries Fionn – now Grey has a template maybe he’ll try to take some improvements on board!

        • July 12th 2017 @ 8:12am
          Hello said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:12am | ! Report

          WE can only hope.
          Thanks for the article Nick – always forces the other eye open 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      July 12th 2017 @ 7:57am
      Poth Ale said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Nice analysis Nic.

      The letters on the pitch makes a lot of sense – hadn’t picked up on that before now. I saw a reference to it on the referees forum but didn’t understand what they meant.

      • Columnist

        July 12th 2017 @ 8:03am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        Cheers PA – I hadn’t noticed it myself until I looked at the incident in detail! But the ball never goes forward after it hits Williams, so Owens cannot be offside…

        • July 12th 2017 @ 8:19am
          Fin said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:19am | ! Report

          Read is in front of the ball when it is kicked as well Nick.

        • July 12th 2017 @ 8:33am
          connor33 said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:33am | ! Report

          Yes, that’s what I thought the other day. It seems perceived as much because Williams is knocked several yards back. Though, it probably took 10 reviews to pick up on it. Thank you for the putting different spotlight and perspective on this one in the article.

        • Roar Rookie

          July 12th 2017 @ 12:56pm
          piru said | July 12th 2017 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

          He is still offside as he’s in front of the man who last played the ball.

          • July 12th 2017 @ 1:02pm
            soapit said | July 12th 2017 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

            if he goes behind any onside player in time hes then onside (havent checked)

            • Roar Rookie

              July 12th 2017 @ 1:14pm
              piru said | July 12th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

              yes, correct – I was responding specifically to ‘if the ball goes backward he’s not offside’

              • Roar Guru

                July 12th 2017 @ 7:08pm
                jeznez said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

                He’s also allowed to be in front of his own player – there isn’t an offside line created unless a tackle is completed, a ruck or maul formed, a kick occurs, a knock on occurs, or at the formation of a scrum or lineout.

                Or am I missing something?

              • Roar Guru

                July 12th 2017 @ 7:20pm
                jeznez said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:20pm | ! Report

                Actually just went and checked and in general play you are off side just by being in front.

                The question then is whether he has put himself back on side by retreating, which I think he has.

                Is less clear cut than I thought.

        • July 13th 2017 @ 8:46am
          Unanimous said | July 13th 2017 @ 8:46am | ! Report

          Forward is relative to the player the ball came from, not absolute.

          There are plenty of cases every match of the ball being propelled slightly back by a passer, but the ball going forward relative to the ground due to the forward speed of the passer. These are not forward passes.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 8:06am
      ohtani's jacket said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:06am | ! Report

      It doesn’t matter whether the penalty was correct or not, Poite shouldn’t have sent it to the TMO and he shouldn’t have reassessed it with advice from Sam Warburton and the benefit of the big screen replay. If this is acceptable then World Rugby needs to introduce a challenge system where the on-field captain can challenge the call.

      The Rugby Gods weren’t in New Zealand’s favor in this series. What made Poite’s decision worse was that the Lions had won the second test on a soft penalty.

      With that off my chest, I agree that the Lions had an excellent defensive system. They also showed some nice handling with their offload game and did a good job of keeping the ball alive. I thought they should have scored a few times but like the All Blacks they couldn’t quite finish. What cost them the series, IMO, is the fact that they didn’t dominate the scrums and lineouts to the extent that Ireland did in Chicago. In fact, I’d say the second test was the only test where the Lions forwards outplayed the All Black pack.

      It was a weird series in that I thought the All Blacks’ pack was better whereas the Lions had the better backline. I would have never expected that heading into the series. I was full of praise for the way the All Blacks handled the reshuffle in the first test when Smith and Crotty left injured but as it turned out they were unable to handle the loss of those two players over the course of the series.

      Ill-discipline was also a huge factor. I was disappointed in Kaino’s yellow, especially in light of the social media barrage he had been under after the first test. The All Blacks never recovered from that yellow in what was a spluttering second half that needed to be razor sharp.

      A couple of differences in this series — not so many instances of the All Blacks scoring before and after half-time, and no dominance in the final quarter as the opposition begins to tire and the fresh legs are called upon. Perhaps there has been somewhat of an overreliance on those strengths? I would have liked to have seen the All Blacks “build” a try instead of trying to make the wonder pass or cross field kick. It often feels like they’ve lost their ability to graft a try. They were bundled into touch trying to work the short side and that was no surprise since they don’t do a lot of pick and go anymore. The forwards should have been ramming their way up the middle in the dying moments. At least that’s the way I romanticise it.

      • Columnist

        July 12th 2017 @ 9:01am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

        Pretty accurate summary OJ. I felt after the first Test that the AB’s were expecting a fairly easy ride at Wellington, and didn’t quite believe the Lions had anything else to offer.

        The Lions were fit, defended well and were able to exploit NZ’s own weaknesses after turnover or on kick returns. They were not a great side, but for the most part they were well-selected and had two outstanding coaches in Farrell and Borthwick. That proved just about enough to provoke some doubts in NZ minds.

        I think the AB coaches will have learned a lot more about their players because of this series – some are not the finished article (even Beauden Barrett) and Crotty and Ben Smith were badly missed as you say.

      • Roar Guru

        July 12th 2017 @ 1:46pm
        Sam Taulelei said | July 12th 2017 @ 1:46pm | ! Report

        OJ!!!!!!!

        Nice to read you in these parts again my friend. It was weird that the perceived strengths and weaknesses of both sides were reversed over the series.

        Ian Foster had the best opportunity to promote his claims for the head job as the attack coach during the series and didn’t nail it. Very few of our tries were the result of a planned set piece move and our counter attacks were lacking their usual accuracy.

        • Columnist

          July 12th 2017 @ 4:36pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

          Nice to read you in these parts again my friend. It was weird that the perceived strengths and weaknesses of both sides were reversed over the series.

          Yep this was the most surprising aspect of all!

          IIRC Ian Foster spent a little bit of time at Ospreys a few years back and no-one was overwhelmed back then, so who knows? Joe Schmidt?

          • July 13th 2017 @ 12:46pm
            mzilikazi said | July 13th 2017 @ 12:46pm | ! Report

            “so who knows? Joe Schmidt?” Or Vern Cotter ?

            I would, with my Irish leanings, like to see JS stay in Dublin a few more years, and see what he can achieve with Andy Farrell. Ireland could be building nicely towords RWC..some good players will be around for a few years ahead…the likes of I Henderson.

        • July 12th 2017 @ 9:58pm
          ohtani's jacket said | July 12th 2017 @ 9:58pm | ! Report

          Sam, you and I have been posting on this site for what, 10 years? Not the first time we’ve lamented the All Blacks’ struggles against rush defence or their inability to score tries.

          In fact, the series as a whole was comparable to the 2009 tests against South Africa. People have said we’re missing Carter and McCaw but we couldn’t get up for the game in Hamilton that year with Carter and McCaw. We almost won it with a cross field kick but fell agonizingly short.

          Hopefully, we try to build from this and aim to become a better side.

          • Columnist

            July 12th 2017 @ 10:30pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 10:30pm | ! Report

            Sam, you and I have been posting on this site for what, 10 years? Not the first time we’ve lamented the All Blacks’ struggles against rush defence or their inability to score tries.

            In fact, the series as a whole was comparable to the 2009 tests against South Africa.

            Good point and even better comparison – thanks OJ.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 8:26am
      MacKenzie said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:26am | ! Report

      Nick, the defensive patterns of Farrell were excellent but you omit to mention the constant offside by the Lions. You say the series should not have been decided on a technical penalty … no it should have been decided on correct defensive alignments which were not policed.
      The All Blacks should have tested the Lions by using chip kicks and collecting them just beyond the defenders. It is an easy skill to master but I don’t recall this being tried.
      It was obvious the home side was struggling against a shallow umbrella defence so the short chip would have been potentially devestating.
      I was surprised the All Blacks didn’t create more rolling mauls (even in general play) to suck in the Lions defenders and create space. The coaching tactics by Hansen and co lacked imagination and flair probably brought about by pressure.
      In assessing the number of tries scored, it is wise to factor in the weather conditions and the style of rugby played. It was more trench warfare than razzle dazzle.
      Disappointingly the Lions ultimately failed (yes they failed and went home empty handed) because they lacked self belief and courage. Sam Warburton elected to kick for goal rather than to kick deep and play a rolling maul in the last three minutes of the final game He said it was better to have a draw than lose.
      Who dares wins and the Lions had settled for the draw before the final whistle.
      It was disappointing and I suspect those same doubts will remain embedded in the northern hemisphere for many years to come.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 12th 2017 @ 9:41am
        eeds said | July 12th 2017 @ 9:41am | ! Report

        I completely disagree with your comment on Sam warburtons captaining.

        Three minutes to go, hit the penalty and get the ball kicked backed to you, hold on to it until you get another penalty or knock it on/take it out of play with the added bonus of the opportunity to score a penalty, field goal or try.

        Unfortunately for the lions the all blacks won it back off the kick off.

        I would say that the risk involved with a line out are just as risky as a kick off…

        • July 12th 2017 @ 10:53am
          MacKenzie said | July 12th 2017 @ 10:53am | ! Report

          Sam Warburton made the comment to take the draw.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 12th 2017 @ 2:37pm
            eeds said | July 12th 2017 @ 2:37pm | ! Report

            In the knowledge they would receive the ball back with 3 minutes to play, yes.

      • July 12th 2017 @ 12:09pm
        ajg said | July 12th 2017 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

        If you think the Lions drawing a series in new zealand is a failure please let us know when was the last time a touring side won a series in new zealand.

        I’ll save you the trouble:
        – last time they lost a single match at home was 2009 to South Africa
        – the last time they lost two home games in a row was 1998
        – last time they lost a series at home is 1994 to France
        – the BILs hadn’t beaten the ABs since 1993

        Add in the fact that the players were only together 6 weeks (thanks to pressure from the english clubs) and had virtually no-prep time and are playing the indisputably best team and nation on the planet (the ABs only lost 5 games in the last 6 years)

        and you still think that the BILs “failed”?

        laughable

        [stats from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_New_Zealand_rugby_union_Test_matches%5D

        • July 12th 2017 @ 12:32pm
          MitchO said | July 12th 2017 @ 12:32pm | ! Report

          Mate I think the ABs were the better team and blew the opportunity to win. But the Lions have to consider that they failed coz otherwise you never win a close a game or a close series. The one percenters, the second and third efforts. Good teams start by losing close games and then they grow and one day they are the team who wins by a point rather than loses by a point.

          Respect the All Blacks for being the perenially the best and NZ for being the greatest rugby nation in history but don’t worship them for it.

          Eddie Jones is going to be going bananas because he and the English will smell blood.

          • Columnist

            July 12th 2017 @ 4:41pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

            I honestly don’t think there will be anyone in or near the Lions camp who considers the tour a failure Mitch.

            The Lions played to just about the max of their ability given the players they had, the ridiculous tour schedule, the lack of prep time and the fact that they had to leave some of their brightest coaching minds (Eddie, Joe and Gregor Townsend) at home.

            That makes the series result a considerable achievement.

            • July 12th 2017 @ 5:56pm
              MitchO said | July 12th 2017 @ 5:56pm | ! Report

              Just to get so close to the top of the mountain Nick.

              I don’t see the tour as a failure but a draw is a failure to win. My comment was more directed to the point that if I was a Lion I would require myself to win and not be happy if I didn’t. You can get over that unhappiness pretty quickly but you should never go into a game without backing yourself.

              • Columnist

                July 12th 2017 @ 6:18pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 6:18pm | ! Report

                I think they did back themselves Mitch, but I don’t feel the right opportunity to win the game really presented itself at the death.

              • July 12th 2017 @ 6:51pm
                MitchO said | July 12th 2017 @ 6:51pm | ! Report

                I didn’t catch the third test but I wasn’t talking about what they shoulda, woulda coulda done at the end. I saw a criticism of Warburton’s decision somewhere but am not going to judge. By back yourself I meant belief at the start of the tour/game more so than going for that match winning try in the corner. I am taking a macro view of this. I am a Western Force supporter and go to every game believing my team can win. And in the past they have knocked off the Crusaders when both on paper and in reality the Crusaders were a far superior team. Just gotta be better on the day.

        • Columnist

          July 12th 2017 @ 4:37pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

          Good response!

      • July 12th 2017 @ 2:05pm
        ClarkeG said | July 12th 2017 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

        The ABs and all other teams used chip kicks I can’t recall one that was not easily covered and /or taken advantage of.

        Clearly it is not as easy as you imply. I would have liked to have seen more of a grubber style kicked used ….e.g Milner Skudder for the Maori.

        • Columnist

          July 12th 2017 @ 4:41pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

          yep Clarke it was one of the main weapons explored early on in the tour by the SR sides…

      • July 13th 2017 @ 1:10pm
        mzilikazi said | July 13th 2017 @ 1:10pm | ! Report

        MacKenzie, you comment ” you omit to mention the constant offside by the Lions.” I would have to say that I see it as pretty much 50:50 in that area. The All Blacks are often standing just that little bit ahead of the hind foot at the breakdown. Remember also that as soon as the ball emerges in these the situations, players can advance immediately and ahead of any action by the inside backs as part of the rush defence.

        I would comment on Murray especially placing his hands on the ball, and even rolling it back, before box kicking. As soon as his hands are on the ball, any All Black coming around to challenge is onside, and should not be held back by the referee . Saw a lot of this in the Six Nations as well.

        “The All Blacks should have tested the Lions by using chip kicks and collecting them just beyond the defenders. It is an easy skill to master but I don’t recall this being tried.”

        Yes, and no. Very precise skill, and can easily badly misfire…especially with the excellent aerial skills of the Lions back three…..and with their ability to counter attack. But I could see this working against the Wallabies..sadly for us here in WB land.

        Lions “lacked self belief and courage”. I respect your opinion, but would have to say I see it very much the opposite. When the AB’s scored those two sublime (in different ways) tries, I could have seen the Lions fold and fall away. That they did not shows, to me enormous mental strength, based on self belief and anchored by courage.

        • Columnist

          July 13th 2017 @ 4:42pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | July 13th 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

          I would comment on Murray especially placing his hands on the ball, and even rolling it back, before box kicking. As soon as his hands are on the ball, any All Black coming around to challenge is onside, and should not be held back by the referee .

          Up North the trigger is now for the #9 to lift the ball off the deck. Until he does that no-one if allowed to advance.

          All of the SR sides before the first Test tried the short attacking kicks consistently and the Lions handled it pretty well. I think that was prob why the AB’s did not feature it quite so much in their planning. After all their plan to run off 9 did work like a charm in the first game at Eden Park!

          • July 15th 2017 @ 10:17pm
            Jerry said | July 15th 2017 @ 10:17pm | ! Report

            That’s the case in the SH too, but I noticed the Lions halfbacks (not just Murray) have a habit of rolling the ball out the back of the ruck so it’s essentially clear (sometimes it was comical as it was a couple of feet behind anyone in the ruck). If they do that, they shouldn’t be protected, surely.

            • Columnist

              July 15th 2017 @ 10:34pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | July 15th 2017 @ 10:34pm | ! Report

              I noticed the Lions halfbacks (not just Murray) have a habit of rolling the ball out the back of the ruck so it’s essentially clear

              That’s exactly right Jerry – and refs have protected them in the NH until the moment they lift the ball off the deck, even when it’s well behind the rear foot… Worked quite well up here, as it has added more definition to situations where you can, and cannot play the #9.

    • July 12th 2017 @ 8:28am
      connor33 said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:28am | ! Report

      Great article–as always, Nick. Isn’t interesting what Clancy then says to McCaw at the 33.45 second mark after the penalty against Read: “You’ll have the same protection.”

      The beauty of rugby is that it creates contests. The kick-off is no exception. But those contest rules have not changed for some time. The height and bodies of players have–and changed significantly, leading to greater collisions when there is a contest. But there is no added protection to the head–head gear is effectively useless.

      (a) Do we rule out players going for the ball at kick-of time? Harsh but it would protect against head injuries from reckless leaps.

      (b) Do we create a zone where the players can contest–i.e., the ball must land between the 5-10 metre mark, rather than exceed 10 metres. That way both players are running at the ball in similar vein to AFL where there is no lifting, and where there seems to be less injuries from that type of contest. It would also require some skill for the kicker to land the ball 5 metres from the half-way line and 5 metres in from the opposing team’s 40 yard. Anything that exceeds 10 yards is a halfway penalty. High risk; high reward.

      (c) Do we just take lifting out of the game for the receiving team?

      Perhaps (c)’s the simplest and most efficient.

      • Columnist

        July 12th 2017 @ 8:37am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

        Thanks Connor – ofc the rules have changed significantly since that 2012 game in respect of aerial contests, and you do not often see the approach Read decided to take in that final KO because there is too much risk attached. He prob thought it was worth a shot on the last play of the game though.

        In the first half illustration he waited for Williams to come back down to earth instead.

        • July 12th 2017 @ 9:01am
          connor33 said | July 12th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

          Interesting re Read in the first half.

      • July 12th 2017 @ 1:00pm
        soapit said | July 12th 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

        connor the black and white rule requires the contesting player to be in a realistic position to catch the ball.

        for me the most literal and coincidentally the best way to apply this would be to allow tap backs but the responsibility is on the tapper to not impede those who are trying to catch it

        • July 12th 2017 @ 1:29pm
          connor33 said | July 12th 2017 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

          Yeah, the kick off is quite different to the Garryowen. The new rules seemed to be direct towards the GO, where two players are typically running towards the ball.

          But the kick-off typically has one player jumping from a static position with lifters and the incoming player. Take out the lifters and the two players will be running at the ball much like a GO, and probably less injuries will result. But is it fair to take lifters out of the game. I don’t know…

          • Roar Rookie

            July 12th 2017 @ 1:45pm
            piru said | July 12th 2017 @ 1:45pm | ! Report

            One of the tenets of rugby is supposed to be a fair contest – I’d argue that lifting a player in general play goes against that

            • Columnist

              July 12th 2017 @ 4:44pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

              It was introduced at lineout to prevent blokes who weren’t jumping from doing anything more nefarious (like grabbing an opponent’s jewels or pushing him out of the way), and it’s pretty much worked from that view point!

              • July 12th 2017 @ 7:09pm
                soapit said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:09pm | ! Report

                wasnt it first that you were allowed to support once they reached the top of their jump but then that was impossible to police and was massively abused so they just allowed lifting?

              • July 12th 2017 @ 7:25pm
                Fin said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:25pm | ! Report

                Nick,
                Do you remember the Reds vs Auckland Blues Super 12 game at Ballymore in 1998?
                John Eales launched into the air unassisted from in front of his goalposts/crossbar and blocked a Carlos Spencer penalty goal from sailing over.
                After that event teams started putting their lock forwards under the crossbar in similar situations but they used lifters to get them up to try and block the penalty kicks.
                I thought that allowing lifters to be used to assist the jumper was unfair on Eales because he could do it unassisted.
                Not sure if it is allowed any more. You never see it being attempted these days.

              • Columnist

                July 12th 2017 @ 7:28pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

                Yeah IIRC they came up with a rule to stop it Fin, although in Gridiron you are allowed to try and block a field goal or extra point attempt…

              • July 12th 2017 @ 7:34pm
                Fin said | July 12th 2017 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

                Here he is trying to do it again. Same season, but not quite as successful.

                https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sDHvDVxMivQ

            • July 12th 2017 @ 6:56pm
              soapit said | July 12th 2017 @ 6:56pm | ! Report

              given the recieving team has just scored im ok with them having a bit of advantage there particularly considering theyre back in their own half

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