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The centres of conundrum at Eden Park

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    It all seemed so clear a couple of weeks ago. The dark New Zealand spearhead with returnee Kieran Read at its sharp tip, enacting Kapo O Pango; Sonny Bill Williams standing tall and offloading in those inside channels; the All Blacks winning again at Eden Park, their spiritual home and fortress. All was right with the world.

    Move the sporting theatre on to wet and windy Wellington, and the finger of Warren Gatland has stirred those once-lucid waters into something of a muddy whorl. The All Blacks gave us their ‘stock’ haka Ka Mate, Sonny Bill saw red for a dangerous shoulder charge on Anthony Watson, and the Lions owned ‘route one’.

    Where the All Black forwards had dominated on the carry at Eden Park, at the Cake Tin the roles were reversed.

    Game All Black forward carries Total metres Average metres per carry
    Eden Park (1st) 83 210 2.53
    Cake Tin (2nd) 47 63 1.34

    The Lions, meanwhile, found the extra momentum up front in the rain that they had lacked the weekend before.

    Game Lions forward carries Total metres Average metres per carry
    Eden Park (1st) 52 99 1.9
    Cake Tin (2nd) 41 104 2.54

    This was one important factor in deciding the fate of the game because it meant New Zealand could not simply expect to repeat the medicine they had administered at Eden Park and achieve the same result. The Lions had to stop the All Blacks in channel one and they did it convincingly.

    But it was Sonny-Bill’s reckless action, the red card in Wellington and his subsequent four-week ban – coupled with the unfortunate injury to New Zealand’s most reliable ‘glue’ midfielder Ryan Crotty – which has really opened up Pandora’s box for the third Test, and given the Lions a more realistic opportunity to win the series than even Gatland and his coaches could have dared hope for before it all started.

    Meanwhile, Steve Hansen would have been hoping to navigate the entire series (and beyond) with minimal changes to the initial midfield selection of Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill and Crotty.

    Instead, he is likely to have to rip up the blueprint and come up with an entirely new combination for the final Test. He has urgent questions circling overhead and the answers are not returning to their keeper’s wrist as readily as they once did.

    Is Crotty fit enough to start? Does Anton Lienert-Brown stay at 13 or move inside to make room for Malakai Fekitoa? What role is there for Ngani Laumape after his outstanding ball-carrying display in Wellington?

    At the same time, Gatland rolled the dice in his own midfield and took the courageous decision to drop Ben Teo after his fine performance in the first Test. He picked twin playmakers in the shape of Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell, who had not started a tour game together before.

    Gatland will have other selection questions of his own in this last week of the tour too – among them, whether to replace penalty-prone Mako Vunipola with the technical proficiency of Jack McGrath given the presence of French scrum-stickler Romain Poite on the whistle, and where to find a more productive partner for the excellent Maro Itoje in the second row.

    By my calculations, Alun-Wyn Jones had only 60% of the involvements Itoje enjoyed on the carry and in the tackle, he won no lineouts and restarts compared to Itoje’s seven, and turned over no ball compared to Itoje’s three disruptions at the lineout, in the maul and while pressuring the kicker.

    But let’s stay with the central topic of midfield selection for both sides – and start with the Lions.

    Did the twin playmaker axis really work at Wellington? The short and simple answer is that it worked in attack but not so well on defence.

    The Lions were able to control most of the first quarter of the game by using Sexton and Farrell to probe potential weaknesses in the All Black defensive screen.

    The Lions’ characteristic attacking shape with Sexton and Farrell in harness first appeared at a scrum in the 9th minute.

    On the third phase, Sexton is at first receiver, with Jonathan Davies crashing down on a hard ‘unders’ line and Owen Farrell fading out behind to play the role of a distributor in the outside third of the field. The idea is to use the threat of Davies to fix the two All Blacks defenders in front of him (here Kieran Read and Sonny Bill) and give Farrell some space in which to operate.

    The threat can be viewed in the second and third frames from later in the sequence. Here the Lions’ hooker, Jamie George, is playing the Davies role and Sexton and Farrell have interchanged at first and second receiver.

    George has fixed the two Sams (Whitelock and Cane) quite successfully, and the Lions have obtained a promising wide attacking position in the final screenshot. There is only Rieko Ioane (out of shot) and the two New Zealand centres opposing five Lions attackers – but Davies drops the ball.

    Even then, the Lions managed to recover the situation and create a chance for Liam Williams down the right-hand touchline.

    The presence of Taulupe Faletau in the space between Sexton and Williams creates doubt in the mind of the last defender Rieko Ioane, and eventually he picks the wrong option, biting in on Faletau as Williams receives the pass.

    Once again, the Lions shoot themselves in the foot by making a careless mistake in a scenario they have won. Williams has already overrun the play in the first frame, and Sexton has no choice but to deliver a pass which travels slightly forward in order to put him away.

    Although they did not create a score in this sequence, all the Lions’ groundwork on their twin playmaker attacking shape was not wasted. It paid out real dividends in their two second half tries.

    The first try comes from a lineout won on the New Zealand 40-metre line. The variation on the basic attacking shape occurs via a wrap-around no.12 by Sexton – but building blocks are still the same; a hard ‘unders’ blocking run by Davies, with one of the two distributors looking to exploit the space outside him:

    The Lions have what they want. Lienert-Brown gets his angle on Elliott Daly wrong and suddenly there are two Lions attackers (Williams and Watson) lined up against the New Zealand fullback Beauden Barrett.

    Two phases later, with play coming back in the other direction, Sexton and Farrell link up more straightforwardly, and Farrell’s long pass gives Williams and Faletau the chance to run at the last two Kiwi defenders and make the score.

    Was it an accident that the Lions’ best scoring chances all occurred over the left side of the New Zealand backline defence featuring three relative newcomers – Lienert-Brown at 13, Ioane at 11 and Ngani Laumape (when he subbed on for Jerome Kaino) at 12? No, it was not.

    The Lions’ second try was also created in the same area, by springing the trap the Lions had carefully constructed in the earlier part of the game. After a couple of prep phases from lineout, at 67:19 on the highlight reel the same Lions’ set-up we observed earlier appears.

    From behind the posts, it looks like this.

    This is where the payoff occurs against New Zealand’s inexperienced centre combination over the left side. Laumape and Lienert-Brown are already over-defending the move the Lions’ had been running all game – the ball behind from Sexton to Farrell.

    With Laumape making his read and shifting across, the way is open for Sexton to deliver the money ball to Jamie George for the Lions’ hooker to make a bust. Conor Murray ran through the middle to score on the very next play.

    The story was very different when New Zealand had the ball and were able to run at the Lions’ midfield defence from early phase set-piece. In this context, Ngani Laumape was superb, taking New Zealand forward yards and yards over the advantage line.

    Laumape is headed straight for the seam between the two Lions playmakers, making five metres after the initial contact. In the second frame, he has absorbed three key defenders (Sexton, Farrell and Sean O’Brien) at the first ruck.

    The extent of the damage Laumape has done is only really clear in the critical third frame. With Sexton and Farrell out of the picture, the defender inside Jonathan Davies is none other than the hooker George, and he only has Antony Watson for company outside him.

    The Lions’ line-speed has been defused and, with the world’s best ball-handling forward Kieran Read at first receiver and Barrett, Israel Dagg and Ioane out beyond him, you would think this is the ideal opportunity for the All Blacks to move the ball out towards the left sideline.

    Instead, Read kept the ball and ploughed forward into contact, and at this point I began to wonder whether the All Blacks’ narrow game-plan had subtracted something from their essential identity, as an attacking team which prides itself on using all fifteen players across the width of the field.

    The same scenario recurred later in the match, as if to wash any remaining doubts from my mind.

    From a right side scrum on the Lions’ 22, Laumape crashes into Davies and Farrell, advancing fully 15 metres over the advantage line, with ten of those metres being made after the initial contact with the defensive centres.

    The third frame offers another seminal moment you would have backed the All Blacks to understand and exploit. Even with Reiko Ioane buried in the first ruck and Lienert-Brown glued to the right side of the set-piece, you would have backed the All Blacks to go left and use Read and Barrett to take on Watson and Sexton, with Watson defending infield and barely above the far post.

    If Barrett is not in the side to exploit just this kind of open-field running opportunity, what is he in the team for? Not primarily his goal-kicking, that is for sure.

    The build-up to the third and final Test at Eden Park will be one of the most fascinating in living memory, especially in terms of selection for both sides.

    Strangely enough, I found this article I wrote many moons ago, anticipating the same crucial components the Lions have in place now – Sexton, Farrell and Davies in the midfield, and the same back five forwards (with Faletau in for the injured Billy Vunipola).

    At the same time, events have moved on again, and Warren Gatland and his coaching group may now have to discuss a couple of positions in the tight forwards – loosehead prop and the best partner to Maro Itoje, as well as how best to improve their early phase defence in midfield.

    The All Blacks are probably in a rare state of uncertainty about the selection of their own midfield trio. If Ryan Crotty is anywhere near match-fit, surely he must play to stabilise the defensive organisation in that area – and there may be a case for Malakai Fekitoa at 13 for exactly the same reason.

    Ngani Laumape made such an impact as a ball-carrier that he too will be hard to ignore. Above all, which centre pairing will give Beauden Barrett the opportunity to justify claims that have been made on his behalf that he is indeed the best rugby player on the planet – claims which have yet to bear scrutiny after two Test matches of the current series.

    As it stands, Barrett has not had the opportunity to do any of the things he enjoys doing the most on a rugby field.

    The All Blacks must be favourites, but the Lions have real, solid grounds for believing that the impossible dream may yet come true.

    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 (486)

    • July 5th 2017 @ 5:01am
      Darwin Stubbie said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:01am | ! Report

      the question that initially springs to mind with those stats figures is what is the effect of 8 v 7 in forwards – coupled with the conditions and the need to play field position … is it that easy to compare the two games based on the numbers …

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2017 @ 5:33am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:33am | ! Report

        It is relevant ofc, esp as the AB’s took off Kaino after the red card.

        However there were also plenty of signs in that first 25 minutes that the Lions were geared up to stifle the success NZ had enjoyed there at Eden Park. Rare that two games are won exactly the same way, two weeks in a row at this level. Andy Farrell would have been preparing a response, evident in the way the Lions approached that first 25′.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 9:47am
          Winston said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:47am | ! Report

          Come on. playing a man down for most of the game will take a huge toll. ABs also usually start slow which explains the pretty even first 25 min

          • Columnist

            July 5th 2017 @ 4:33pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:33pm | ! Report

            I’d point out that England beat Argentina 27-14 in November last year, playing with 14 men for all but five minutes of the game (Elliott Daly got sent off for a tackle in the air).

            At the end of the day I suspect the AB’s will be kicking themselves for not putting the game away when they had clear chances to do so in the second half.

            • July 5th 2017 @ 5:59pm
              Henry honey balls said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:59pm | ! Report

              Eh and Ireland beat South Africa in South Africa with 14 men for most of the game last year.

            • July 5th 2017 @ 6:32pm
              ClarkeG said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:32pm | ! Report

              No argument there. They did have those chances.

              One accurate play was all that was needed to put the series away.

            • July 5th 2017 @ 7:29pm
              winston said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:29pm | ! Report

              Argentina arn’t that good.

            • July 5th 2017 @ 7:44pm
              winston said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:44pm | ! Report

              Sorry I don’t see how stating two exceptions says anything. I would have it a guess that a lot more games are lost from getting a red card than won. Especially when they are closely matched.

              • Columnist

                July 6th 2017 @ 5:18am
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 6th 2017 @ 5:18am | ! Report

                You can add in Munster-Glasgow from ECC and Leinster-Scarlets Pro 12 semi this season – both wins for the 14 men…

              • July 7th 2017 @ 8:09pm
                superba said | July 7th 2017 @ 8:09pm | ! Report

                Nick the Sharks beat a hot Crusaders side in NZ a few years ago with 13 men for 70mins .In those circumstances the pressure is on to gear up and some teams do , playing above themselves.I cannot recall in recent years a team slicing and dicing the AB backline like the BILs .3 x in the first test and 6x in the second .The Lions backs are the more dangerous of the two backlines imm.I back the Lions to win tomorrow as they have the ABs measure.

              • Columnist

                July 7th 2017 @ 8:35pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 7th 2017 @ 8:35pm | ! Report

                There are ways of coping with being undermanned S.

                And being 14 v 15 is not the same as being in the power-play in Ice hockey (4 v 5). In addition with the five game I mentioned from this season, the Saracens-Exeter EPL match also featured an incident similar to Sonny-Bill’s. Man sent off early first half, but Sarries drew the game rather comfortably, against the side that went on to become champions.

            • July 5th 2017 @ 11:01pm
              Jemainok said | July 5th 2017 @ 11:01pm | ! Report

              NB I think they did what they thought was the best strategy to win. And for a lot of the game it looked like the right strategy. Sure they didn’t take a few opportunities but in these circumstances I can forgive them.
              I thought they gave themselves a heck of a chance at winning. Key things to note for me is the AB’s set piece statistically was better despite having 7 forwards for much of the game. I thought the AB’s played great wet weather rugby for the majority of the game controlling the game for long periods. So while they missed opportunities I thought they played the conditions and situation better for the majority of the game. But congratulations too the lions for coming home with a wet sail.

              • Columnist

                July 6th 2017 @ 1:56am
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 6th 2017 @ 1:56am | ! Report

                So while they missed opportunities I thought they played the conditions and situation better for the majority of the game.

                I’d agree with that Jem, it’s just that one of the descriptives most often used about the AB’s is their ‘clinical’ efficiency. At Wellington they had the winning of the match but were not either smart or clinical – and surprisingly the Lions were for those last 15 minutes or so…

              • July 6th 2017 @ 8:32am
                Jemainok said | July 6th 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

                NB true they are usually clinical.
                But it was quite an unusual game for a number of reasons.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 9:57am
          Jacko said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:57am | ! Report

          Just last year it took 60 mins to get on top of Arg and SA but they ended up being high scores to the ABs.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 6:07pm
          Noodles said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

          I reckon that’s the bit you underestimated in your commentary: the stronger Lions defence up front. For example wynn jones might not have the stats of itoje but his ferocity at the line was a key. As was the effort of the three fat guys. Itoje added much but Warburton stiffened the line, threatened possessions and supported everyone at every turn. Vunipola could go I think, so long as his replacement is suitably crazy. I would not change other forwards despite my admiration for best. And I can’t see an improvement in the backs. ABs better with fekitau and will have back a huge asset in kaino, who went with sbw.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 11:24pm
          Jemainok said | July 5th 2017 @ 11:24pm | ! Report

          True NB but the AB’s forwards at least had Parity and at times was stressing the Lions defence in those early exchange’s. It was quite obvious the Lions were flooding the breakdown a bit more. And their defence in close was alot better. But it wasn’t till Kaino went off till I noticed the Lions were able to own that contact zone in defence. Whether it was having 1 less big body as an option in those tram lines I couldn’t tell you but we will see next week.

    • Roar Guru

      July 5th 2017 @ 5:23am
      taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:23am | ! Report

      Nice Nick, I’d underestimated Laumapes efforts so perhaps he might get the nod. A Laumape Crotty or ALB midfield would return the ABs to the Nonu Smith type setup so that looks likely I guess. Other than that for me it’s about the ABs upping the anti.

      The form of every player was sound enough in the first test where the Lions applied much less pressure than the second so an increase in intensity at the colisions might give them the space to continue on from the first test.

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2017 @ 5:29am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:29am | ! Report

        Yes all being equal you’d guess Crotty and ALB. But if all is not equal then Laumape will certainly give the Lions some concerns in defence, and knock some tar out of the twin playmakers… But I would also not be at all surprised if Fekitoa is catapulted straight into the run-on side, esp if Crotty is still unfit.

        I’d like to see the AB’s keep their balance a little better on attack, and not get sucked into the inside arm-wrestle quite so much.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 6:30am
          mad mick said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:30am | ! Report

          There is no way Crotty can be fit after a hamstring injury. The ABS have created this problem in the mid filed for themselves. They should never have selected SBW, At no time in his career has he been the first choice 12 except for the first test this year. The push to have him in the side has caused the other midfielders in NZ to lose heart.Moala Fekitoa Tamanivalu have all dropped off this year.

          This futile search to replace Conrad with a like player is ridiculous. If they want to go down that path they should pick Buckman who is a better player than Conrad ever was. The form pairing in NZ this season has been Laumape and Aso. They are young they are in form they are fast and strong they are familiar with Barrett and they should have been selected together..

          I am at a loss to understand why Sexton was not playing the first test. He is one of the few 10s in the game who know how to run the ball and play flat up against the line. Every time he plays against NZ he causes problems. Im not sold on Farrel and never have been his defence is not great. I would prefer Teo.
          Maybe Henderson has the work rate to go with Itoje

          • Columnist

            July 5th 2017 @ 6:40am
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:40am | ! Report

            Tamanivalu has moved out to the wing this year hasn’t he? Is he still being considered as a 13?

            I don’t see any natural Conrad Smith’s out there either, his footballing intelligence was a one-off. ALB may yet develop into a 13, but he’s still a novice at that position right now.

            Sexton had a ropey end of season with Leinster, mainly because he had been out injured for so long – didn’t play well for Leinster at the back end. Farrell was and still is the form 10 in the UK (unless you look for a diff type like Ford or Russell).

            • July 5th 2017 @ 8:31am
              Targa said | July 5th 2017 @ 8:31am | ! Report

              Long term I think Jack Goodhue is going to be the new and improved Conrad Smith, but he isn’t ready yet. ALB is also very good, and Jordie Barrett is an excellent no 12 even though he has played 15 for the Canes this season.

              I hope they go ALB and Fekitoa on Saturday – with possibly Fekitoa at 12 (he has played there quite a bit for the Highlanders with Matt Faddes in 13) and I’d rather have the better tackler (Fekitoa) at 12, and better distributor (ALB) at 13.

              • July 5th 2017 @ 9:56am
                Winston said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:56am | ! Report

                Reiko Ioane likes to pay 13 as well

              • Columnist

                July 5th 2017 @ 4:35pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:35pm | ! Report

                Most of the decision makers defensively tend to play 13 – and if Fekitoa is selected in that role I think that’s where he’ll play!

            • July 5th 2017 @ 6:01pm
              Henry honey balls said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:01pm | ! Report

              Farrells form in the 6 nations was quite poor albeit at 12 not 10. He played well at 10 for Sarries.

          • July 5th 2017 @ 7:35am
            Kane said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:35am | ! Report

            Haha I’m a huge Highlanders fan but Buckman isn’t half the player Conrad was.

            Did you happen to watch SBW play in 2012? He was by far and away the best 12 we had at that stage. And don’t forget the rest of the time he wasn’t first picked was because of Nonu, not the worst player to be selected behind.

            Now for the likes of Fekitoa (who doesn’t play 12 like SBW) don’t get bitter, get better!

          • July 5th 2017 @ 9:12am
            taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:12am | ! Report

            Agree with SBW but dont agree Sextons caused problems every time, he’s had some poor matches and Bucknell better than Conrad ever was? hmmm…probably take a lot of convincing as hes never been tried at test level.,

          • July 5th 2017 @ 12:53pm
            ClarkeG said | July 5th 2017 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

            better than Conrad Smith ever was?…..behave Mick…behave.

            what’s your next piece of selectorial wisdom?…Marty Banks better player than Carter ever was perhaps?

            • Roar Rookie

              July 5th 2017 @ 1:40pm
              piru said | July 5th 2017 @ 1:40pm | ! Report

              Whatever happened to Robbie Fruean?

              • July 5th 2017 @ 2:39pm
                Rugby Tragic said | July 5th 2017 @ 2:39pm | ! Report

                He followed Blackadder north…

              • Columnist

                July 5th 2017 @ 4:36pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:36pm | ! Report

                He’s at Bath still in R & R mode…

              • July 5th 2017 @ 6:42pm
                Colin N said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:42pm | ! Report

                Fruean’s now signed for Edinburgh after a short but successful stint at Bath.

              • Columnist

                July 5th 2017 @ 6:43pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:43pm | ! Report

                Ahh, cheers Colin.

    • Roar Guru

      July 5th 2017 @ 5:30am
      Shop said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:30am | ! Report

      It would be fantastic for world rugby and the Lions concept if they beat the Darkness, unfortunately I can’t see it happening. I think the AB forwards are going to monster their opponents this weekend which will make it all too hard for the visitors to rack up enough points.

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2017 @ 5:36am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:36am | ! Report

        I can see see it being a nail-biter Shop, which in the context of global rugby would be almost as good as a win for the Lions. Almost. Rarely in these sort of game, with this quality of player, do you see one side entirely obliterated.

        The last thing a neutral observer will want is an All Black win by 30 or 40 points – I don’t think that will help either the status of the international game as a whole, or the Lions’ future in particular.

        • Roar Guru

          July 5th 2017 @ 6:13am
          taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:13am | ! Report

          Yes it really is a battle of the hardened and the novices in terms of being a side in positions where they must win.

          The Hansen Smith etc brigade has so much more experience at managing sides through these scenarios let alone the players that have done the same, many still from the World Cup win.

          Gatland has Oz but the Lions advantage could be that no history of any of it is a good thing, naivety is a friend.

          ABs sure are sweating this week and as a fan couldn’t ask for anything more.

          • Columnist

            July 5th 2017 @ 6:28am
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:28am | ! Report

            Some of the Lions coaches are very experienced now – as much with their own countries as with the Lions – so I’m not sure the All Black coaching group will have a huge advantage in that respect.

            However they will enjoy the psychological rebound effect coming off a loss, and it’s also their move in the chess game – the Lions stopped what they did in the first Test at Wellington, so now it’s NZ’s turn to come up with something different 🙂

        • July 5th 2017 @ 8:53am
          jameswm said | July 5th 2017 @ 8:53am | ! Report

          I’d have no issue with an AB win by 20-30 and I’m an independent supporter.

          Ref the game properly and that’s what we’re a good chance to get. Does Itoje get away with standing 3m off side and in the lineout tunnel week to week? .

          • July 5th 2017 @ 9:46am
            Adsa said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:46am | ! Report

            With Poite as Ref anything is possible!

          • Columnist

            July 5th 2017 @ 4:37pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

            Shocker – someone closed the gap at a lineout! 😀

            • July 5th 2017 @ 6:49pm
              Jacko said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:49pm | ! Report

              Its time the ABs thrower just refused to throw until it is sorted…Keep telling the ref you cant throw of course otherwise get penalised for not throwing

            • July 5th 2017 @ 9:42pm
              jameswm said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:42pm | ! Report

              Closing the gap a bit is one thing. Itoje just stands in the middle.

            • July 5th 2017 @ 11:33pm
              Jemainok said | July 5th 2017 @ 11:33pm | ! Report

              Closed the gap, understatement of the year NB. How Itoji got away with that second lineout, were he might as well have had an AB lifter was quite strange.

              • Columnist

                July 6th 2017 @ 1:49am
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 6th 2017 @ 1:49am | ! Report

                And get away with it he did.

              • July 6th 2017 @ 8:36am
                Jemainok said | July 6th 2017 @ 8:36am | ! Report

                Hehe that he did. How he did is another story

        • July 6th 2017 @ 12:01pm
          Grotto said | July 6th 2017 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

          You get the feeling that if this Lions team played the Wallabies or Boks, it could also be a 30 or 40 point win… to the tourists…!

    • July 5th 2017 @ 6:37am
      Lostintokyo said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:37am | ! Report

      Great analysis Nick. And you are right about how fascinating this final test will be with two sides from different ends of the planet in more ways than one.

      For the impossible dream to come true, the Lions have to:
      # beat the Eden Park Hoodoo.
      # beat the abs two times in a row.
      # take care of the Barrett factor again.
      It is certainly stacked up against them.

      Outside of the Long White Cloud, there will be plenty of rugby fans cheering the Lions on, including one lost soul in Tokyo. Plenty of great matchups. Intrigue of coach game plans. If the Lions’ forwards can get on top or at least gain parity, which I think they can, it will be up to the inside backs. If the abs inside backs are indeed a little “rattled”, there is that chance of a fairytale ending.

      • July 5th 2017 @ 1:59pm
        Perthstayer said | July 5th 2017 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

        The hoodoo of there being hoodoos is seriously deflated now.

        After the w/d these will have moved to the back of their mind, having broken several already.

        Eden Park will not have such a hold. Playing there twice has been a favour. The first test loss has been turned around and the Blues loss is easily compartmentalised as first game shakes, and it contained numerous players no longer selected.

        Lions will definitely be very anxious, but about the game. They have maximum respect for the ABs but focused on winning, if that happens to be at Eden Parlk then so be it.

        The number of fans, colour, and noise will further dampen teh perceived hoodoos

        • Columnist

          July 5th 2017 @ 4:42pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

          Yes, will be interesting to see if the Lions fans are as vocal as they were in Wellington. In 2001 they were banished to the far corners of Sydney stadium!

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2017 @ 4:40pm
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

        All hoodoos have to end sometime Lost – may not happen on Saturday, who knows, but it will happen in due course…

        There are lots and lots of reasons to believe that the Lions will go the way all rugby flesh and take a hammering, but for the sake of the international game I hope not.

        There is a lot a stake in this series in terms of control of the game as a whole, and it will be in the interests of the clubs in the North for the Lions to fail miserably and follow the decline of Australia and SA recently.

        • Roar Guru

          July 5th 2017 @ 5:41pm
          Ralph said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

          All Blacks bring home ground advantage and a slight advantage in the scrum.

          Lions bring a more experienced mid field and a slighter edge in the lineouts.

          Lion’s have the psychic energy and the All Blacks are backs against the wall.

          Both teams will believe they can win and the first 20-30 minutes are going to be brutal. I pray for no brain explosions and an anonymous ref.

          • July 5th 2017 @ 6:49pm
            Colin N said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:49pm | ! Report

            With Kruis and O’Mahony not likely to be selected, I would certainly say that the All Blacks have an edge at the lineout, although Itoje did a great job in difficult conditions last week.

            For me, New Zealand have the defensive lineout in the world, which is a credit to the Lions that they’ve managed to limit that threat so far.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 11:00pm
          Lostintokyo said | July 5th 2017 @ 11:00pm | ! Report

          Interesting point you raise Nick regarding the Northern Hemisphere clubs. With Super Rugby in a bit of a mess and news of two SA teams leaving Super to ply their trade north, I feared another nail was being driven into the Southern coffin.

          Your point that it is in the Northern clubs interests to have the Lions lose is an interesting one. If the Lions can help the rugbies of SA and the Aussies get out of their spiral, even in a small way, then a Lions win is even more important for the health of world rugby. Where is a Fairy God Mother when she is needed?

          • Columnist

            July 6th 2017 @ 1:59am
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 6th 2017 @ 1:59am | ! Report

            When the clubs are privately owned there is a grudging acceptance of the necessity of international rugby generally… The Lions for them represent an unreasonable demand on ‘their’ assets.

            I hope the SA move into Pro 12 will be a harbinger of things to come – one which will help rationalize rugby in the SH too.

    • July 5th 2017 @ 6:40am
      Cynical Play said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      Thanks again Nic.

      Incredible tour exceeding all my expectations.

      When the score was locked at 21-21 with 5 minutes to go there was a scrum right on the half-way line. Fantastic stuff. Either side could have one though the Lions seemed to have the wetter sail at that point.

      I think Shag will go for Fekitoa and Laumape in the centres as Crotty is too close to call for such a big game (injury wise). He’s not even running with the team. I think Ione will make way for Savea.

      I think Billy V should come of the bench. Or not at all.

      On another note, and I know the SBW subject has been done to death in recent days, but as a reminder to fans as to why shoulder charges are so heavily discouraged in Rugby, one only needs look at a Coroner’s case underway in Australia right now where a 25-yr-old man died from bleeding in his head after copping a shoulder charge to his chin from an NRL thug in a jersey. I see this thuggery weekly in the NRL where they simply haven’t got it yet, but thankfully Rugby is stamping it out:

      Last week I called a Lions win by a drop goal. This week …Lions by 2.

      Long live the Lions tours.

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2017 @ 6:43am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:43am | ! Report

        Thanks CP – Laumape and Fekitoa might make a good combination, certainly v physical and direct, could take some of the pressure off Barrett. I think you may also be right that ALB is the odd man out for this selection.

        I hope that the third game is just as competitive as the other two, if the Lions can be in with a chance after 50′ it will be a tumultuous finish 😀

      • July 5th 2017 @ 6:52am
        adastra32 said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:52am | ! Report

        Good sentiments – not least the wish for Billy V off the bench: sadly, the only bench he will be likely near is a medical one at home to fix or rehab the shoulder. Mako’s not bad though….

        • July 5th 2017 @ 10:00am
          Cynical Play said | July 5th 2017 @ 10:00am | ! Report


        • Columnist

          July 5th 2017 @ 4:43pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:43pm | ! Report

          Ahhh Billy V (misty-eyed)… 🙂

      • Roar Rookie

        July 5th 2017 @ 7:57am
        Don said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:57am | ! Report

        To be fair to Rugby League CP, the shoulder charge was only made illegal in their game a couple of years ago.
        It has always been against the rules in Rugby to shoulder charge or tackle without using arms.

        I applaud both codes for protecting the head of players but it was always going to be a quicker transition towards broader acceptance in Rugby.

        Personally I think some penalties are really harsh in Rugby where a guy carrying the ball slips as the tackle is in progress at waist height but ends up clipping the ear.

        I can live with any decisions though as long as they are consistently applied.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 8:21am
          Kane said | July 5th 2017 @ 8:21am | ! Report

          They thing that annoys me is they have come down hard on contact to the head (rightfully so) in order to try and reduce it.

          However, if someone is going for a low tackle and the ball carrier slips as he goes into contact and his head ends up where his waist should have been and gets a knock to the head then by all means that is an accident.

          By penalising it, it makes it no less likely to happen as the tackler had lined up around the waist for a completely legal tackle and was undone by someone falling over out side of his control.

          Penalising accidental contact to the head when the tackler wasn’t the one to make a mistake does nothing to help the game or peoples heads.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 10:06am
          Cynical Play said | July 5th 2017 @ 10:06am | ! Report

          Mate, the shoulder charge is alive and well in NRL. Players still do it with minimal effort to conceal it with a minor arm wrap. If you are in any doubt have a look at the last Origin where there were a couple of whoppers. But seriously, it’s every game, every weekend. It’s a brutal collision weapon and many of the NRL concussions are shoulder charge type collisions. Have a look at the growing evidence that concussion is NOT a mild head injury. I am a medico and manage players with concussion disorders.

          “To be fair of Rugby League” …. the burden of head injury from contact with the head has been huge in the NRL, and the efforts so far have been pretty soft. A penalty usually, or “on report” at worst….meanwhile, injuries and occasionally death continue.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 10:46am
          MacKenzie said | July 5th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

          The shoulder charge was banned by the NRL in 2012. Unfortunately old habits die hard and Nonu was also guilty of shoulder charging – I suspect a legacy of his league days.
          Even now though many league commentators and fans judge a match by the number of hits and ferocity of the clashes.
          Gang tackling where shoulders hit must now be looked at very closely as they are becoming prominent and they are effectively shoulder charges.

          • July 5th 2017 @ 7:02pm
            Jacko said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

            Yes Nonu went to , and represented Strathmore primary…played union, Rongatai college and Oriental Rongatai was his rugby club and he represented Secondary schools for wellington. In 2007 he expressed a desire to play in the NRL but instead played for the Junior ABs as he missed selection in the 2007 WC squad. So this league background was playing both union and league as a school kid yet that somehow influenced his whole career?

      • July 6th 2017 @ 3:09am
        Ken Catchpole's Other. Leg said | July 6th 2017 @ 3:09am | ! Report

        How did we miss that piece of news Cynical? I don’t watch much news but I am surprised that incident is not more widely known.
        Sadly the soccer mum effect after that (and Sonny Bill’s internationally televised hit) won’t be good for the code, given that many folk don’t know the difference between the rugby’s.

        But not as sad as the lives of the people directly around the poor player. The culture of origin IMO does little to eradicate this sort of thuggery from the code.

        Serious injury is tragic when it is accidental but the administrators in all sports must take pause to consider their culpability in allowing a culture of deliberately illegal ‘rough stuff’.

    • July 5th 2017 @ 7:03am
      Highlander said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:03am | ! Report

      Thanks Nick – nothing quite like a deciding test to round out a series.

      The AB centre selection is going to be crucial, certainly the worst of the options would be Laumape and ABL together.
      The jungle drums are starting to beat on Ryan Crotty being fit so I hope that’s true, that defensive organisation is often undervalued by many fans, and with him and Ben Smith out defensive alignment has struggled.

      Oh and how we miss Ben Smith stepping into the line at just the right times on attack and defence. There were multiple occasions on Saturday. when the ABs created space outside, as you have highlighted, but simply didnt get the ball there. Aaron Smith called in, not attacking where they weren’t.

      I was really impressed with the AB forwards on Saturday, huge effort with seven and to dominate Possession, territory and total metres and to hold on in front for as long as they did – super effort.

      • Columnist

        July 5th 2017 @ 7:28am
        Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:28am | ! Report

        The jungle drums are starting to beat on Ryan Crotty being fit so I hope that’s true, that defensive organisation is often undervalued by many fans

        Yes this is an important point – the same happened to Jean de Villiers in SA and Brad Barritt with England and even Brian O’Driscoll towards the end of his career….

        Israel Dagg was not impressive as Smith’s replacement was he, and I think the balance for a wet weather day was wrong in that AB back three too…

        There was nothing wrong with the seven AB forwards as you say, which is one reason why the Lions may want to make change in a couple of positions in their own tight five.

        • July 5th 2017 @ 8:57am
          jameswm said | July 5th 2017 @ 8:57am | ! Report

          “I think the balance for a wet weather day was wrong in that AB back three too”.

          I totally agree with that. What were the ABs thinking? Look at their game plan – you needed wingers who above all were good kickers and good at taking bombs and box kicks.

          It’s not often they get it wrong, but they did that time.

          I would be sorely tempted to play Cruden at 10, BB at 15 and push Dagg back to the wing. Savea or Ioane on the other wing.

          • July 5th 2017 @ 9:01am
            Hugo said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:01am | ! Report

            James – “Cruden at 10, BB at 15 and push Dagg back to the wing.” That gets my vote.

            • July 5th 2017 @ 9:20am
              taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 9:20am | ! Report

              Yes thats what we pushed for last week, especially as they were in those roles when Ben S went off.

              That was a selection mistake if even just for continuity purposes. Dagg was great on the wing and should have been there last weekend. Cruden would have steadied the ship better with SBW off.

              They may go for Crudes still and he still has more experience at starting 10, and now a better record. The Chiefs style suited the Abs more than the canes more open game where it relies on Barrett getting space to move, something he’s clearly not getting this series.

              Sexton will be selected again and ABs must hurt that pairing…key to the match.

              • July 5th 2017 @ 1:56pm
                Peter said | July 5th 2017 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

                Taylorman, you must be “an NRL thug”. Fancy saying that the “ABs must hurt that pair”! I thought all rugby players were as pure as the driven snow and their moral codes would not allow them to do such a thing. Oh wait,the series is on the line, isn’t it, so it’s all good. Yeah mate, nah mate, all good, besides which remember what they did in 1957…

              • July 5th 2017 @ 2:56pm
                rebel said | July 5th 2017 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

                Its a figure of speech, as in that is the week point to exploit with attack.

              • Roar Guru

                July 5th 2017 @ 3:20pm
                taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 3:20pm | ! Report

                Thanks rebel, something’s really shouldn’t need explaining. Even the context gave that away…

              • July 5th 2017 @ 6:33pm
                rebel said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:33pm | ! Report

                Yeah when people say hurt them om the scoreboard, they aren’t going out to fire bomb it.

              • Roar Rookie

                July 5th 2017 @ 6:46pm
                piru said | July 5th 2017 @ 6:46pm | ! Report

                I wondered why there was so little outrage over the All Blacks massacring Samoa

              • July 5th 2017 @ 7:00pm
                ClarkeG said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:00pm | ! Report

                You have to admire those that never pass over even the most slightest opportunity to have a dig…so tenacious they are.

          • July 5th 2017 @ 10:21am
            Riccardo said | July 5th 2017 @ 10:21am | ! Report

            Smith, Cruden, Ioane, ALB, Fekitoa, Dagg, B Barrett.

            TJP, Laumape J Barret from the pine?

            • July 5th 2017 @ 4:28pm
              moaman said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

              What’s the forecast Ric?
              How about a selection from left-field? Jodie Barrett to start at 15…Dagg back on the right.ALB in to 12 with Fekitoa at 13.

              • Columnist

                July 5th 2017 @ 4:46pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:46pm | ! Report

                Jodie Barrett to start at 15

                Is that the sister in the family Moa?? 😀

              • July 5th 2017 @ 8:20pm
                moaman said | July 5th 2017 @ 8:20pm | ! Report

                Moniker was coined by a South African commentator during Super rugby Nic….I quite like it.

              • July 6th 2017 @ 6:54am
                Riccardo said | July 6th 2017 @ 6:54am | ! Report

                Finish with possible afternoon/evening showers my friend.

                Can’t see a distinct weather impact/advantage either way.

                Good call on Jordie by the way.

                Wondered if Julian might come back into the reckoning.

                Expecting big games from him and Jerome.

              • July 6th 2017 @ 7:10am
                moaman said | July 6th 2017 @ 7:10am | ! Report

                Riccardo—Cheers mate….though I didn’t expect JS’s recall I applaud it.Thought he looked quite good for ‘Canes and was a bit stiffed to not get a crack in 2nd Test.
                Selectors have balls of steel I reckon! Exciting times to be a fan.

          • July 5th 2017 @ 10:46am
            connor33 said | July 5th 2017 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            Agreed: Cruden at 10, BB at 15 and push Dagg to the wing. That’s what they should have done. But they didn’t.

            • Roar Guru

              July 5th 2017 @ 4:59pm
              taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:59pm | ! Report

              I’d hate to think Chekeitas has infected the camp. He’ll be picking Mumm soon…

            • July 5th 2017 @ 7:07pm
              Jacko said | July 5th 2017 @ 7:07pm | ! Report

              Yes the Abs selectors are so silly for having no idea that SBW would be sent off

          • Columnist

            July 5th 2017 @ 4:45pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | July 5th 2017 @ 4:45pm | ! Report

            I would be sorely tempted to play Cruden at 10, BB at 15 and push Dagg back to the wing. Savea or Ioane on the other wing.

            Much bigger call to make now than it would have been before the first Test James!

            • Roar Guru

              July 5th 2017 @ 5:16pm
              taylorman said | July 5th 2017 @ 5:16pm | ! Report

              Think so? Crudens done a whole season starting 10 and Beaudys subbed at Fullback many times, and they had this setup most of the first test.

              So there’s little risk in it, the only thing for me is Hansen’s committed to Barrett long term when Cruden is off soon and that goes against his modus operandi to push him aside, even temporarily.

              I think it’s now too obvious given the Departure of Smith and Crotty. And it’s well known Barrett has now struggled in both Super and now this series in limited space. Crudens more ‘streetwise’ in that respect as well.

              The three 10’s surrounding Hansen must surely be tearing their hair out by now.

              Think Savea just might be named tomorrow as well. I think it would be a shame to exclude him from an entire Lions series given his service to the AB’s so far and his forms been ok this year.. Ioane hasn’t stood out bar the two tries.

              So that’s my two calls…Savea and Crudes to 10, BB to 15.

              Cmon Hansen! Do the right thing.?

              • July 5th 2017 @ 11:17pm
                Sylvester said | July 5th 2017 @ 11:17pm | ! Report

                To me it makes no sense to move Barrett, the person with the most influence on the backline, to fullback, where he’s likely to have less influence and where the ABs already have a replacement who’s played 30-40 tests in the position.
                It’s certainly not great for Barrett’s confidence as the long-term playmaker.

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