Do the Lions know how to beat a New Zealand rugby team?

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    It doesn’t happen very often in the modern professional era. The New Zealand All Blacks have only lost one match (against Ireland in Chicago) in fourteen since the 2015 World Cup.

    Now their Super Rugby franchises are becoming just as hard to overcome as their international side. With a miserable record of zero wins in 14 attempts, no Australian team has won any of the trans-Tasman encounters in 2017.

    Matters are scarcely any better outside the Australia-New Zealand rivalry, with the Sunwolves, Jaguares and South African sides having claimed one win out of eight matches. That gives an aggregate of one win in 22 attempts, and a disastrous 4.5 per cent win ratio.

    It is becoming progressively more difficult for any opponent to remember how to beat a New Zealand team, because it happens so rarely at any level.

    So what hope for the British and Irish Lions touring party when they pitch up at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for the official ‘welcome to New Zealand’ on June 4?

    By then they will already played (and quite possibly lost) the first game of their tour against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians at Whangarei. The Baa-baas will be no pushovers, with 13 of their named 19-man squad having played footy for either New Zealand schools, under-20s or the Maori.

    The initial segment of the Lions’ tour schedule will be brutal. The first Saturday match will be against the Blues, reinforced by their 11 All Blacks.

    Three days later, they face the currently unbeaten Crusaders, who will have access to their 12 All Blacks. One week later, the Maori have also been cleared to select international players in their squad for the fifth tour game on June 17.

    The domestic season in the U.K. finishes on 27 May, with the finals of the Guinness Pro 12 and Aviva Premiership competitions. Clubs who are providing a significant number of Lions, like Saracens in England (six) and Munster and Leinster in Ireland (eight) could therefore be contesting a final on the Saturday before the first tour match.

    The impact of a journey to New Zealand eleven hours ahead of the time in the U.K, can mean up to ten days recovery time before the body clock fully adjusts. How much real participation time in training this will eat up is therefore a question of real concern for the Lions.

    Realistically, those players involved in domestic finals could be available for selection in time for the first midweek game against the Blues on 7 June, but just how well-prepared will they be?

    Therefore, the worry for the Lions is that they could be blown out of the water in the early segment of the tour, take losses in three out of their first five matches and lose all the selection parameters for the first Test in the course of it.

    That represents their opportunity to find out what, and who will succeed against New Zealand teams in New Zealand.

    There are some signs that the selection process is already to a certain extent compromised. When Warren Gatland admitted quite candidly that,

    “We (the coaches) had a good discussion about the midfield and one of the things I said to the rest of the coaches was that we can’t leave Jonathan Joseph out”

    …it raised my eye-brows several inches above their normal level!

    As the most effective midfielder attacker in the Six Nations and also one of the best defenders, I had thought Joseph would be an automatic selection. But without Gatland’s late intervention, it appears he would not have even been picked at all.

    This selection event alone suggests some very basic disagreements about what type of player, and by implication what type of game-plan will be necessary to beat both the All Blacks, and New Zealand teams in general.

    The incongruities have if anything, been reinforced by the absence of George Ford from the Lions selection at outside-half, and Joe Launchbury from the second row.

    At this stage, it does now appear that Owen Farrell is more likely to start at 10 rather than at 12 in the first Test at Eden Park on 24 June, and that decision could be crucial to the Lions chances of pulling off their first series win in the ‘Shaky Isles’ since 1971.

    The most recent example of a victory over a New Zealand side at elite level came in the Stormers-Chiefs Super Rugby encounter at Newlands on 8 April. The game gave notice of a number of themes which will be prominent if the process of beating Kiwi teams is to take really take root on the Lions tour.

    Avoid giving up the big kick return (12:58-13:25 andamp; 27:53-28:11)
    If it’s one thing the matches between Australian and Kiwi sides have taught us, both at international and at Super Rugby level, is to avoid giving up big KR and turnover opportunities to teams from New Zealand. The Stormers gave up two such opportunities in the first half against the Chiefs and they paid the full penalty.

    The first came from a very decent cross-field diagonal into ‘coffin corner’ off the boot of Stormers’ #10 Robert du Preez. Fatally, there is only a one-man chase by #14 Cheslin Kolbe, and a one-versus-one is always regarded by Kiwi sides as a positive, even this close to their own goal-line.

    Once James Lowe breaks that first tackle, all of the Chiefs’ skills in unstructured situations weigh in – offloads at 13:11 (Damian McKenzie), 13:16 (Anton Lienert-Brown), 13:19 (Liam Messam), 13:20 (Lowe) and Messam again at 13:22 setting up the try for Tony Pulu.

    In the second example, there is a good chase down the left sideline by four Stormers’ defenders, but that is still not enough to prevent McKenzie beating the first tackler E.W.Viljoen to create another line-break and a second score for Pulu. Two phases, ten passes and twelve points – not a bad result.

    Ball retention in the red zone (18:00-18:25)
    andamp; directness in attack (2:22-2:29, 3:09-3:12). One important lesson from Ireland’s two matches against the All Blacks in 2016 was the necessity of maintaining positions in the opposition red zone (0-30 metres out from the goal-line) long enough to make a score. In the 14-phase, near-two minute scrum sequence from 18:00-19:50, the Stormers made four clinical cleanouts at wide rucks beyond the 15-metre lines on either side of the field.

    Two of them are included in the reel – the first on Chiefs #7 Lachlan Boshier by #8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe and #11 Dillyn Leyds after a half-break by Viljoen at 18:05, the second by #7 Siya Kolisi and #12 Dan du Plessis on Hika Elliott at 18:25.

    Both of the Chiefs’ jackals are bouldered backwards by decisive ‘combination’ cleanouts composed of one back and one forward, in situations where the loss of the ball would spell instant danger on the counter. Against New Zealand sides, it is also vital to go forward in a straight line from set-piece as far as you can before you use the width of the field.

    From the lineout at 2:22, Notshe breaks out from the maul along the five-metre line at 2:29, five phases later the same player scores the try in exactly the same place as he was relative to touch, and the ball has never moved out more than 20 metres from the near sideline in the process.

    There are other elements which the Stormers were successfully able to include in their game-plan to beat the Chiefs:

    Restarts as momentum-changers (3:58-4:05, 30:21-30:27 andamp; 47:18-47:22)
    All New Zealand teams are acutely aware of the importance of restarts from halfway as momentum-changers. As the mind relaxes temporarily after a score, you have the chance to either surrender or sustain momentum on the ensuing kick-off.

    As a result, New Zealand teams will typically adopt a variety of different stratagems to get the ball back directly from KO. After conceding the first try to the Stormers, the Chiefs give their #7 Boshier a shot at knocking over the Stormers’ receiver (#12 du Plessis) if there is any error on the receipt, while #6 Messam is loitering well past the catcher to pick up any loose deflections.

    In the event, du Plessis makes a spectacular catch. On the other side of the ball, the Stormers made sure they had a chance to reclaim possession immediately after conceding a score themselves, twice setting up a mismatch between Eben Etzebeth over first Liam Messam, then Damian McKenzie on their right-hand 15m line.

    Scramble defence and the restoration of ‘structure’ (6:16-6:22, 11:48-12:00, 53:17-53:25, 61:45-61:57, 72:50-72:57)
    Three connected areas in which the Stormers excelled were (1) their scramble defence after the first line had been broken, (2) their saturation of the Chiefs’ support channels and, (3) reloading into structured D as quickly as possible to offer as short a window to the Chiefs’ ‘chaotic’ attack as possible.

    The first example at 6:20 has #10 Robert du Preez chasing all the way across from the far side of a scrum to field the ball after the Chiefs put through a short attacking kick.

    This snapshot at 72:57 illustrates just how well the Stormers suffocated the support channels after a break had been made.

    At 72:57 all the four players closest to the ball as James Lowe goes to ground are wearing blue jerseys, while after the successful cross-kick by Aaron Cruden to Lowe at 61:50 all the support lanes are blocked at 61:57. The Stormers also managed to return the game back to one of structured defence far more quickly than the Chiefs would have liked. At 53:25 Lowe wins back a Chiefs kick-off and chaos reigns, but a couple of phases later the game is back ‘in structure’:

    The same pattern had already appeared earlier on in the first half, with the break by McKenzie already drifting back towards an orderly defensive situation at 11:57:

    Countering in the chaos – 50:58-51:14. The Stormers attracted the ultimate reward for their staunch scrambling D and support suffocation after a break had been made in the 51st minute. A half-break and offload by Stephen Donald is intercepted by Kolbe and returned back for a score at the other end via a miracle ball from Dillyn Leyds off the deck.

    Summary. The international teams of New Zealand are losing less and less at both Test and Super Rugby level against foreign opposition.

    Can the British and Irish Lions overturn the trend and win a Test series against the All Blacks for the first time since 1971? The odds have to be heavily against it.

    The crowded domestic schedule, the subtle confusion in Lions selection, the front-loaded opponents in that crucial first couple of weeks of the tour will combine to make a series win a remarkable achievement for rugby in Great Britain and Ireland.

    If the Lions can take something from victories like that of the Stormers over the Chiefs and ingrain the lessons in the team’s playing pattern, there may just have a chance. But it is a thin sliver of light at the end of a very long and all black tunnel.

    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 (366)

    • Columnist

      April 26th 2017 @ 7:35am
      Geoff Parkes said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:35am | ! Report

      Evening/morning Nick.

      The good thing about shifting the international window is that, in the future, the Lions won’t be compromised by the clash with Premiership and Pro 12 finals. It’s crazy that Gatland has been handed such a difficult itinerary yet isn’t allowed to prepare his team properly.

      On the other hand the good thing about that change not coming in for this year, is we don’t have to wait an extra month. I’m ready now, bring it on!

      • Roar Guru

        April 26th 2017 @ 7:51am
        Diggercane said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:51am | ! Report

        Completely agree Geoff, it is madness. Considering the costs for Test tickets, it does not seem reasonable given the schedule.

        Doesn’t stop the excitement though, cant wait.

        Thanks again Nick, will you be making the trip for the tour?

        • Columnist

          April 26th 2017 @ 3:24pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

          Hopefully will be booking for at least part of it Digger – trying to get front end of the tour just in case its all over by the third Test 🙂

        • April 27th 2017 @ 1:58pm
          Tissot Time said | April 27th 2017 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

          Digger few beers for Roarers in WLG before second test?

          • Roar Guru

            April 27th 2017 @ 3:04pm
            Diggercane said | April 27th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

            Not a bad idea that TT, not at all…..

      • Columnist

        April 26th 2017 @ 3:23pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:23pm | ! Report

        Agree totally Geoff – (and let’s be selfish about it!)

        Problem seems toe be that the extra month of R & R they are trying to create in June is already being swallowed up by the clubs with extra games!

        • Columnist

          April 26th 2017 @ 4:01pm
          Geoff Parkes said | April 26th 2017 @ 4:01pm | ! Report

          Yes, so much for all this talk about player welfare! It took Premiership Rugby approx 20 minutes to step in and claim the extra month for a longer season.

          Hopefully the Players Union holds their ground.

          • Columnist

            April 26th 2017 @ 4:51pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 4:51pm | ! Report

            Exactly, so deeply pathetic I hope the players wake up to just how much their employers really care about their long-term welfare…

            • April 27th 2017 @ 4:08am
              English twizz said | April 27th 2017 @ 4:08am | ! Report

              More games, more TVs money more players for the teams looks like more SH players coming north

              • Columnist

                April 27th 2017 @ 4:34pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 27th 2017 @ 4:34pm | ! Report

                Have you seen the latest financials for the EPL sides Twizz – only one in profit and that’s because the CEO deducted his own salary from the calculation.

                If the players association have any sense they will block any plans to extend the season into that month at source.

              • April 28th 2017 @ 2:21am
                English twizz said | April 28th 2017 @ 2:21am | ! Report

                Think the rich owners care if they lose money salary caps going up to 7 million pounds with 2 players not in the cap some teams could be at 9 million pounds with magic accounts

    • April 26th 2017 @ 7:39am
      mania said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:39am | ! Report

      its easy. man on man d and don’t miss tackles

      • April 26th 2017 @ 1:32pm
        Ryan said | April 26th 2017 @ 1:32pm | ! Report

        Also have to post points (and some).

      • April 26th 2017 @ 1:34pm
        Ryan said | April 26th 2017 @ 1:34pm | ! Report

        Also need to post points (and some).

        • April 27th 2017 @ 9:01am
          mania said | April 27th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

          agree, but most important is stopping ABs from scoring.

          • May 1st 2017 @ 9:39pm
            ScottD said | May 1st 2017 @ 9:39pm | ! Report

            easy mate, just don’t give them the ball

    • April 26th 2017 @ 7:43am
      Lscanes fan said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

      I always love your articles. Being in NZ I can’t see the videos but your precise explanations are fantastic to read. For my mind, I’m seeing a Blackwash this tour, I’m just not convinced the Lions are going to have the skill, energy or nous to pull one back against us. More than happy to be wrong on that though – Bring the tour on!!

      • April 26th 2017 @ 7:52am
        z1000 said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:52am | ! Report

        I’m an AB’s fan through and through but I wouldn’t write off the Lions just yet.

        • April 26th 2017 @ 8:43am
          mania said | April 26th 2017 @ 8:43am | ! Report

          agree. as they say in the NFL “any team can beat any other team on any given Sunday”
          ABs are fallible and if Lions have heart thy can take it to the NZ sides. just don’t miss those first up tackles would be the first thing to establish

          • April 26th 2017 @ 10:10am
            taylorman said | April 26th 2017 @ 10:10am | ! Report

            but they’re not playing on any Sunday…?

            • April 26th 2017 @ 10:31am
              mania said | April 26th 2017 @ 10:31am | ! Report

              our given sundays are saturdays

        • April 26th 2017 @ 2:02pm
          Lscanes fan said | April 26th 2017 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

          Not writing them off and I think they will be great games anyway, but for my mind, the most winnable will be the Baabaa’s game and as Nick says, the schedule will work against the Lions for this as most of their top team will have just played Finals footy the week before. After that, they hit the SR teams who have been together for months.

          I just really think the hard start to the tour is going to cause problems for the Lions all the way along.

          • Columnist

            April 26th 2017 @ 3:30pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:30pm | ! Report

            The Lions will have to come together extraordinarily quickly, and the game-plan will have to be simple enough to not require a lot of learning. Is that the recipe to beat the best side in the world? Probably not.

            • April 26th 2017 @ 4:15pm
              Cuw said | April 26th 2017 @ 4:15pm | ! Report


              this is the same reason why countries like Fiji and Samoa are not very competitive in the XV man game.

              they have very little time together and when they get together the available time is too little to teach and also assess each person where they r at in terms of fitness and injuries and most importantly form.

              for Lions things are even harder , given they consist of players from 4 different styles and philosophies. one saving grace is the majority of Welsh who know Gatland’s ways.

              but the spanner in the works is the schedule – with so many games crammed into the tour the players will not get much time to engage in going thru the plans and structures in a meaningful way.

              this is very much like a cricket tour of today. u go to a foreign place, play one game in one town to get acclimatized and then play tests in 3 different towns which are rarely if ever resemble the place where u practiced. by the time ur gettin used to the conditions the tour is almost over !!!

              • Columnist

                April 27th 2017 @ 4:36pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 27th 2017 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

                The Wales game-plan is an antique which has hardly changed for the last few years CUW – why would the England and Ireland players buy into it when they are both doing something much more interesting with their own countries?

              • April 27th 2017 @ 5:32pm
                Cuw said | April 27th 2017 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

                do they have an option , given the coach is welsh ( i mean the guy who coaches wales 🙂 )

                i think that is why there are so many welsh in that squad.

      • April 26th 2017 @ 9:30am
        Shaun said | April 26th 2017 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        Agree with all points. Especially, what do we have to do to start accessing Roar vids outside of Aus??!!

        • April 26th 2017 @ 9:53am
          Whatthe said | April 26th 2017 @ 9:53am | ! Report

          Even in aus we aren’t guaranteed to be able access videos at least in WA.

          • April 26th 2017 @ 11:25am
            Jibba Jabba said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

            There is a thing called ‘dropbox’ – perhaps they could be put in there then you will be able to see them.

        • April 26th 2017 @ 1:33pm
          ethan said | April 26th 2017 @ 1:33pm | ! Report


      • April 26th 2017 @ 10:27am
        Misha said | April 26th 2017 @ 10:27am | ! Report

        Why why why can’t we see Roar videos in NZ? Surely rugby clips aren’t copyrighted to just Oz are they?

        • April 26th 2017 @ 2:11pm
          Akari said | April 26th 2017 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

          Good question, Misha, and one for the eds to attend to as soon as.

        • Columnist

          April 26th 2017 @ 3:28pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:28pm | ! Report

          This is a persistent issue I’m afraid, maybe we can provide a link to the same videos on youtube – Eds??

      • Columnist

        April 26th 2017 @ 3:26pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:26pm | ! Report

        Thanks L. I think it will be a better Lions team than in 2005, but that may still not be enough to rake in a Test win! If they had a break and a six week camp together I think it might be a close-run thing – but as it stands, we may discover the reason (again) why the format of future Lions tours has to change…

    • Roar Guru

      April 26th 2017 @ 7:53am
      Machooka said | April 26th 2017 @ 7:53am | ! Report

      Yeah, gotta agree with G‘I’m ready now, bring it on!’

      Thanks for the read Nicholas as it’s just reinforced what a difficult challenge this current Lions’ team have in touring NZ.
      Fair to say it’s unrelenting from the get go. And while the tests are obviously the real deal, the mid week games are, for me, just as enticing. Should be a cracker of a series!

      • Columnist

        April 26th 2017 @ 8:03am
        Geoff Parkes said | April 26th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        Just on the itinerary Chook, I met with Lions CEO John Feehan in February and two things he said stood out;


        1. they have the attitude that if they’re going to travel all that way and take on the best, they want to play the best sides outside the tests, hence all of the SR franchises were included

        2. he wasn’t getting into how many wins/losses, but what they want more than anything is to be good tourists, play a good brand of rugby and be respected for that. They’re very conscious of enhancing the Lions brand.

        • Roar Guru

          April 26th 2017 @ 8:56am
          Machooka said | April 26th 2017 @ 8:56am | ! Report

          Thanks for that G… and I would expect nothing less from the Lions, or these Lions!

          One thing I learnt when they were last here in Aussie was the support from the ‘Barmy Army’ was like having an extra player on the field. They are massive. Passionate. Vocal. Unrelenting. And colourful.

          Where-ever they play they will be well supported by the army… and frankly that’s what makes these tours so special. On the field it’s obviously on, and off the field it’s a continuos call to bring it on! 🙂

          • April 26th 2017 @ 11:30am
            Jibba Jabba said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:30am | ! Report

            Ha, 15 a side beer pong v the Barmy Army… !
            (I see Chook your emoti thing doesn’t work either, do a smilie face and end up with an empty box, mine too. 🙂

          • April 26th 2017 @ 2:15pm
            Akari said | April 26th 2017 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

            25% of the Barmy Army may end up wearing black, Chooks ?

        • April 26th 2017 @ 11:28am
          Jibba Jabba said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:28am | ! Report

          So are the Lions the new Barbarians / Harlem Globe Trotters then.. kinda devalues the contest especially if they are not given the opportunity (schedule / timing re their own finals etc) to be properly competitive.

          • Columnist

            April 26th 2017 @ 12:48pm
            Geoff Parkes said | April 26th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

            That’s an interesting point JJ.

            John said that they are cognisant of history, and don’t want to mess with the 12 year cycle for major tours, but they are also open to new opportunities to enhance the brand in other places.

            The logical path is that this might be the final ‘long’ tour featuring midweek games, and that future tours will be shorter, perhaps only 1 or 2 matches outside the tests. But there may be more tours to other places.

            Interesting how 10 matches is now viewed as long, compared to historical tours. Like everything else in society, it reflects shorter attention spans and the need to move on to something new.

            It’s also reflective of how every rugby competition, organisation and nation, while showing concern for player welfare in one breath, in the next breath wants to fill every available space with ‘their’ rugby.

            • April 27th 2017 @ 12:38pm
              soapit said | April 27th 2017 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

              or perhaps how much more the sport is reliant on holding maximum attention span geoff

              then theres the tv thing which allows people to see games outside their home town

        • Columnist

          April 27th 2017 @ 4:38pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | April 27th 2017 @ 4:38pm | ! Report

          he wasn’t getting into how many wins/losses, but what they want more than anything is to be good tourists, play a good brand of rugby and be respected for that.

          Smells a bit suspect as an aim don’t you think Geoff?

      • Columnist

        April 26th 2017 @ 3:32pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

        Plus you think of the seven Saracens players (inc Liam Williams now) who will have come off prob two big finals – ECC and Premiership – and you think, how will they find another step up from there so soon?

        You need a build-up to those peaks, you cannot keep ‘peaking’ all the time! Well… maybe you can Mr.Chook 😀

    • Roar Guru

      April 26th 2017 @ 8:07am
      Fionn said | April 26th 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

      There are some signs that the selection process is already to a certain extent compromised.’

      These are the same one-eyed coaches who selected about 12 Welshmen despite their atrocious performances in November and average (at best) performances in the 6 Nations.

      Launchbury outplayed Wyn-Jones every single round bar perhaps England vs Ireland (as Launchbury outplayed every other lock in the tournament), and along with Itoje he’s the most dynamic and well-rounded lock. Warburton isn’t even the best 7 for Wales, and they want to make him captain of the Lions? Apparently Gatland says he might not even be starting, in which case, why make him captain?

      If I was Scottish I would be mightily pissed off, not necessarily with any specific selection (as there are arguments for all of them), but the fact that literally every 50-50 call went the way of Wales. Rather like the Wallabies, what is the point in busting your gut if you’re someone like Launchbury or the Grays if the old boys are just going to pick their mates. It’s a joke for what is meant to be an aspirational amateur team.

      We (the coaches) had a good discussion about the midfield and one of the things I said to the rest of the coaches was that we can’t leave Jonathan Joseph out

      Is Joseph just not rated in the NH? I saw Brian O’Driscoll say he would pick Henshaw at 13, despite him being a 12 usually. O’Driscoll has always been a little parochial in my view, so is this just him being patriotic or is that the consensus on Joseph?

      At this stage, it does now appear that Owen Farrell is more likely to start at 10 rather than at 12 in the first Test

      As good of a player as Farrell is (he would definitely be the Wallabies’ 10), I predict that if they go for a boring kick for the corners game and try to just win it off set-piece + Farrell’s goal-kicking they’ll lose. The All Blacks will have a better line out and probably equal scrum. Gatland should be picking the classiest and most skilful backline that he can, and that means Sexton at 10, whether you shift Farrell to 12 or onto the bench.

      • Roar Guru

        April 26th 2017 @ 2:27pm
        Timbo (L) said | April 26th 2017 @ 2:27pm | ! Report

        I am with you, The English game plan won’t beat the Kiwis, The Irish one did, 1 out of 2 times.
        So Pad the tight 5 with England’s Oafs,
        Keep the Irish Loosies and Hooker.
        Fill out the back line with players that fit the Irish brand of running rugby.
        Pray for Injury and attrition in the AB’s, you might be able to beat their 3rd and 4th choice players, but even that is optimistic.

        • April 27th 2017 @ 12:05am
          Samuel Honywill said | April 27th 2017 @ 12:05am | ! Report

          Not sure how you’ve come to the conclusion the Irish play running rugby but I suggest you go and watch some of the 6N highlights, you’ll be in for a shock. Especially once they broke into the 22 it was one out runners all the way.

          • Roar Guru

            April 27th 2017 @ 1:09pm
            Timbo (L) said | April 27th 2017 @ 1:09pm | ! Report

            I saw a lot of the games, and sure, the Irish know how to slow down and grind it out.
            Running rugby isn’t much good inside the opposition red zone anyway.

            I was speaking in contrast to the Pom’s game where they kick it deep and then thug it out in the lineout and rucks. The Kiwi teams are masters of the counter attack and unless that ball goes dead into the stands, it is running straight back at you with interest.

            The Irish backs and loosies were able to run it up and be in an attacking position when they got there.
            There were also very good at shutting down runners in the midfield. Not something you can do if you are at the bottom of the white dog pile.

      • Columnist

        April 26th 2017 @ 3:39pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

        Hi Fionn.

        With Gatland, Howley and Neil Jenkins all in the selection group I guess some measure of tilt to Wales was inevitable – these are the players they know the best after all.

        But I suspect not taking Joe Launchbury, and for that matter Johnny Gray will turnout to be fairly serious omissions. Gray at the very worst would be an ideal midweek captain, and he calls lineout. Used to responsibility, and for mine that moves him ahead of Courtney Lawes in the queue.

        I don’t know what the thinking was re: JJ. Maybe they thought we can’t find another player with the same qualities to replace him (Garry Ringrose??). Just purely on performance, JJ has to be the best 13 available.

        If they stick Farrell at 10 they’ll lose, simple as. Not because he cannot play there, but it means a midfield something like OF-Henshaw-Davies and that is too one-dimensional to worry the AB’s…

        • April 26th 2017 @ 4:58pm
          taylorman said | April 26th 2017 @ 4:58pm | ! Report

          Yes Nick! On the last sentence…that’s a biggie.

          trouble is…if he’s not leaning that way already by the time the test rolls around Gats will have convinced himself Farrells the only safe bet against the ABs. Most kiwis probably think Sexton is too fragile for this yet our selections of Cruden and Barrett are more similar to Sexton and Ford than Farrell.

          Farrells going to cut off the backline whether at 10 or 12, but in all honesty, any Lion reading the first few paragraphs of this on the way over might just be enough to want to turn around and go back! ?, as if the ability to beat the ABs is now permeating down through all the feeder channels as well, it not only suggests the depth and injury cover is there in spades but the non test sides are going to be unforgiving as well.

          Said last year that if anything those guys leaving in 2015 would be missed in terms of leadership but were bottlenecks in terms of skill levels, enthusiasm, youth, and that’s coming through in droves now.

          • Columnist

            April 26th 2017 @ 5:02pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

            I suspect I rate OF more highly than you do T-man, but I would prefer to see him at 12 on this tour. This means the Lions would need to be able to run the same pattern in their midweek games to ensure some continuity – but they have no Farrell equivalent in the likely midweek side do that isn’t possible.

            • April 26th 2017 @ 5:20pm
              taylorman said | April 26th 2017 @ 5:20pm | ! Report

              Yes I think you do, for me the modern day 10 must be doing the things our guys are doing, and that is finding the space at all costs, using all means possible. Farrell can’t do a lot of what it needs against the ABs so he starts behind the 8 ball in terms of effectiveness on attack.

              Yes ours play a different game but if so there’s gotta be something else to counter it on attack and that means the task goes to someone else so immediately the sides under pressure. The 10 not running the play effectively from the most ideal position on the field to do so means someone else needs to. Murray? Joseph? The pack…?

              For me there’s just signs that Gats is going to concede that space and try his usual percentage game again, and hope that the ABs don’t go nuts on his sides.

              • Roar Guru

                April 26th 2017 @ 5:25pm
                Fionn said | April 26th 2017 @ 5:25pm | ! Report

                Across the Tasman we’d love to have him…

              • Columnist

                April 26th 2017 @ 6:55pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

                Farrell can’t do a lot of what it needs against the ABs so he starts behind the 8 ball in terms of effectiveness on attack.

                I think he’ll prove to be better than you think – at the very least he will not be one of the Lions weak links…

              • April 26th 2017 @ 10:51pm
                taylorman said | April 26th 2017 @ 10:51pm | ! Report

                No, which is why Gats will pick him. My concern is his creativity, do you mean not weak in that respect?

                He’s solid defensively and good off the boot and I think that will appeal to Gatland, but how will he be in linking with his inside backs, pushing play in the right direction, subtle mixing up the tactics.

                He’s not known for that so with the pressure the ABs apply he must play is usual game and it’s that predictability, the neutralising of the 10 On attack that will cause the rot to set in. Back to one ups etc.

                I think Gatland will knock subtlety out of the side where the ABs thrive on it.

                Unless somehow he goes with Sexton..That will make things more interesting.

              • Columnist

                April 26th 2017 @ 11:10pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:10pm | ! Report

                OF’s touch on the pass has improved greatly in last couple of years, and picks when to hit the line or stay off it better – he’s also developed a great double pump fake which has undone many NH defences…

            • April 26th 2017 @ 6:22pm
              adastra32 said | April 26th 2017 @ 6:22pm | ! Report

              So the likely dominant play pattern will be Warrenball, as Steve H said. Oh dear.

              • Columnist

                April 26th 2017 @ 6:55pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 6:55pm | ! Report

                Hard to see what else they’ll have time to prepare for Astra…

        • Roar Guru

          April 26th 2017 @ 5:14pm
          Fionn said | April 26th 2017 @ 5:14pm | ! Report

          With Gatland, Howley and Neil Jenkins all in the selection group I guess some measure of tilt to Wales was inevitable – these are the players they know the best after all.

          It just really annoys me, Nick, because the Lions are sort of the last bastion of the old amateur era, and they are the ultimate aspirational team. I understand that Gatland needs the results and he will naturally trust the players he knows best (although how Halfpenny deserves to be there, or why they needed quite so many back-rowers I do not know), but it just such a kick in the teeth for the Scottish players and for guys like Launchbury.

          The Lions come around once every four years, for many people this will be their only shot (could lose form, could be ageing, injuries, etc) and so I don’t want them to miss out the opportunity they deserve, and this could be the case for many Scottish players and Launchbury who probably do deserve the chance more than some of the guys who are going. The chance the play for the Lions in New Zealand is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity for almost everybody.

          I just feel so bad for the guys who are missing out. Jamie Roberts is the one I feel the worst for.

          • Columnist

            April 26th 2017 @ 6:53pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 6:53pm | ! Report

            The chance the play for the Lions in New Zealand is literally a once in a lifetime opportunity for almost everybody.

            Yep ans that’s why it’s important to select a representative team from the four nations.

        • Roar Guru

          April 26th 2017 @ 5:29pm
          Fionn said | April 26th 2017 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

          One other question, Nick. Do you think that New Zealand’s current level of play and game-style is so much better than the rest that the way to beat ’em is to join them, or do you think countries like England, South Africa, Australia, etc are better to go back to their traditional game-plans and simply execute better?

          I guess my question is whether the current New Zealand game-plan is simply objectively better than all of the others, or is it just down to the individual skill levels and execution of the players?

          • Columnist

            April 27th 2017 @ 4:42pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | April 27th 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

            It’s objectively better because it pays more attention to those unstructured situations that arise in the game and values them more highly. In the NH and maybe even in Oz and SA there tends to be a focus on ‘coachable’ situations within structure, and individual ball skills are insufficiently developed.

            All the other nations, if they want to improve, will have adopt some New Zealand attitudes, whatever the differences in their rugby backgrounds.

      • April 26th 2017 @ 8:37pm
        mzilikazi said | April 26th 2017 @ 8:37pm | ! Report

        Fionn, I totally agree with you re what you say in the last para……….I believe the Lions only chance is to go for the best backplay they can muster…..which could be very powerful. Would make for a great series if they do so.

      • April 26th 2017 @ 11:59pm
        Samuel Honywill said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:59pm | ! Report

        There’s even a lot of England fans who don’t rate JJ if you look at a lot of comment boards, like DTRR. Find it mad. His running game isn’t as prominent as it was when he burst into the team but I still think overall he’s easily the most balanced 13 in the NH.

        • Columnist

          April 27th 2017 @ 1:16am
          Nicholas Bishop said | April 27th 2017 @ 1:16am | ! Report

          Yep agree, it’s nuts 🙂

        • Roar Guru

          April 27th 2017 @ 8:31am
          Fionn said | April 27th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

          Cheers for the info, Sam. I’m really shocked to hear that, to be honest.

          That being said, Australia, and especially a certain two clubs within Australia, also have an unfortunate history of not recognising talent and overlooking them.

    • April 26th 2017 @ 8:18am
      John said | April 26th 2017 @ 8:18am | ! Report

      Hi Nick, fascinating article as always.

      My first question is who are the Lions tacticians? Who is looking at the tapes of the Irish defeat and the Stormers game – as you are – and assessing strategy and tactics.

      Secondly, there are so many good players to choose from, can one really say that not selecting Launchberry or Ford or Joseph would be mistakes? Surely there are good players in lesser teams that need to be acknowledged. Not saying they got it all correct but curious for your thoughts.

      Third, what about the Kiwis? Do you see weaknesses? Front row? Set piece? Centers?

      Finally, a little perspective. Your thoughts on the ramifications if the Lions lose 0-3 to the All Blacks as well as several tour matches.

      • April 26th 2017 @ 11:38am
        Jibba Jabba said | April 26th 2017 @ 11:38am | ! Report

        Morning twas 🙂

        • Columnist

          April 26th 2017 @ 3:45pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

          Is John TWAS JJ??

          • April 26th 2017 @ 5:52pm
            John said | April 26th 2017 @ 5:52pm | ! Report

            I live in Connecticut. A transplanted Sydneysider. Isn’t TWAS a Queenslander?

      • Columnist

        April 26th 2017 @ 3:44pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | April 26th 2017 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

        My first question is who are the Lions tacticians?

        It’s a very good Q John, and one for which I do not have a ready answer!

        It would not surprise me at all if Andy Farrell emerged as the strongest voice in the coaching group and that the team becomes as much his as anyone’s else’s. Which means a hard-nosed D, and maybe some RL nous on attack…

        Yes there are weaknesses in the AB side, though I won’t go into them here.

        If the Lions lose say four or five matches on tour I believe the structure of future Lions tours and their place in the global calendar has to be re-examined, just shovelling them in at the end of the domestic season isn’t good enough.

    , ,