By Alan Dymock
THE DIFFICULT second Test is coming and both teams have finalised their lineups. The Wallabies have swapped out injured players, while the British and Irish Lions have made five changes.
Warren Gatland himself said: “I don’t know about not changing a winning side; it is about picking the best team to do the job for us.” He is hinting at tactical reasons for the cutting and pasting of his team sheet. Looking back at the first Test footage, he certainly has reasons to change.
Looking at the game, there is cause for dropping Tom Croft, as well as requesting that defence coach Andy Farrell shores things up.
For Australia’s first try, 12 minutes in, Will Genia took a tap penalty. He ran, in a position where it was three on three and the Lions were retreating. Croft gambled, shooting out of the line to get at James O’Connor, but Genia dummied and Croft was stranded. With a three on two, Mike Phillips was all at sea, chopping in and out trying to keep up with Genia, and as North and Halfpenny converged to try and close the attack down a sublime grubber allowed Israel Folau the freedom to canter over the line.
This was not an isolated incident, though. For Folau’s second, Croft shot out again, this time after a few phases. He was not helped by the fact that, relatively close to the middle of the park, both Jonathan Davies and Brian O’Driscoll advanced beyond the defensive line, tackling together but then trying to disrupt the ball. This meant a re-shuffling of the defensive line and by the time Croft flew up on Stephen Moore and the hooker threaded the ball to his outside support, there was a deep lying three opposite two drifting defenders.
The defensive strategy of pushing up a defensive pair in what is ostensibly the traditional 13 channel is a step away from the inside push towards the touchline and also the outside push from the wingers and full-back that had been so heavily punished by the Waratahs and Queensland Reds earlier in the series. However, this meant that when Folau got the ball in space he was opposite Jonny Sexton, who he brushed off, Alex Corbisiero who he palmed away, and then a racing Leigh Halfpenny who cannot match him for muscle.
Shooting does seem to be a recurring issue. The defensive schizophrenia which saw the Lions defend one way against the provinces and another against the Wallabies means that the personnel are a week or so behind, even if they don’t know it yet.
Just before Kurtley Beale’s first successful penalty in the second half, 59 minutes in, George North flew out of the line while the team were on the halfway, five points ahead. He was off his wing. Why is a blitz more important than re-positioning when you are ahead and in a relatively safe position?
This is one instance where the crossover of League-style defence seems lost in Union. So while scrambling and desperate, with a mix of positions in your line, players get greedy at the breakdown, desperate to incite a turnover rather than consolidate. This is why Paul O’Connell had to kill ball on his own five metre line after Sexton and Davies were still blitzing away from others only inches from their own try-line.
A team shape would be better against a counter attacking Aussie team, and clearly Dan Lydiate is preferred as the man who can enforce this. Croft is still on the bench for his attacking prowess, but discipline is needed. Alex Cuthbert is also on the bench after his own positional naivety and Ben Youngs is brought in for a better kicking option.
Maybe with discipline and touch-finders, things will get that little bit easier for the Lions, defensively, in the second Test.
Check out our tactical explanation of why change was needed for the Lions attack, here.