Analysis of the First Test between the British & Irish Lions and New Zealand makes for sobering reading but there are positives ahead of next week...
The manner of defeat will concern Warren Gatland
The British and Irish Lions’ 30-15 defeat in the first test will obviously concern Warren Gatland. But the manner of the defeat will probably concern him more. Being out-dazzled by a Kiwi backline is one thing, but having his Northern Hemisphere forwards out ‘protein shaked’ is quite another. Whilst the pre-match build-up related to the width of the All Blacks style of play, it was the narrow that did for the Lions early on. Big direct carries and a series of intricate short passes rendered the Lions’ blitz defence ineffective and allowed Sonny Bill Williams to deliver his performance of the season for club and country.
This isn’t to say that the Lions weren’t competitive. For periods, they were. The Lions first try was immaculate and worthy of any Lions’ DVD. The Lions also saw some very positive individual performances from Ben Te’o, Jon Davies and Liam Williams, but it was nowhere near enough. Gatland will have started the game wanting to dominate the collisions and that simply didn’t happen. It’s very rare that you see Owen Farrell lose a collision, against a forward or a back. The collision he lost against Kieran Read was a proper eye opener – or eye closer – depending on how you see it.
Lions’ lineout was a genuine positive
It is rare to find many areas in which any team outperforms the All Blacks. Keeping their lineout to a completion of just 61% is massive. The defensive lineout work of the Lions was exemplary. To reduce the All Blacks to completing eight lineouts from 13 is a genuine plus for the Lions. It does though present a selection problem.
Peter O’Mahony is the best defensive lineout forward in the squad. Sam Warburton is however the best ‘jackal’. The Lions dominated the lineout but lost out on the deck. For the second test, do the Lions opt for mobility and power defensively in the lineout, or on the ground? I know which way I’d go. It would be interesting to hear your view.
Lions score a wonder try. But need more
Whoever is editing this year’s Lions’ DVD will have already cut, dubbed and titled the first try from the first test. And rightly so. It was started by a beautiful step from Liam Williams, which saw Kieran Read fooled for the only time in 80 minutes. Williams then flowed through the gap between Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams (Ben Te’o offering a subtle shield). Then, Jon Davies and Elliot Daly executed some excellent inter passing, with the lung burning supporting line of Sean O’Brien to finish.
But here is the problem. Whereas this try will definitely feature on the Lions’ DVD, the All Blacks score so many tries that their DVD editor will have to wait a while before choosing their top tries for the film. The All Blacks scored three in the first test with a malfunctioning lineout and two backs substituted in the first 34 minutes. This isn’t to say that the Lions’ can’t create tries, they actually made more clean breaks in the first test than their opposition with 15 breaks to 12. Only tries will beat the All Blacks. Let’s hope the Lions’ section policy continues to reflect that.
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Lions struggle with the All Blacks short passes
It’s becoming very difficult to give a term to some of the passing that the All Blacks executed in the first test. They’re not quite passes, because they don’t always go into the air. They’re not quite ‘gut passes’ – an old school term used to explain passing the ball into your team mates hands and abdomen. And they’re not quite offloads either as it’s difficult to tell if they’re being executed before or after contact.
What they definitely are however is a way to render defence systems absolutely redundant at times. It’s like watching the ‘Roman Tortoise’, a roman military formation, but with a ball moving underneath like a pinball. When we in the Northern Hemisphere are often marvelling at New Zealand’s’ backs, we’re possibly taking an eye off their forwards. Codie Taylor’s try, with a pick up that James Dyson would be proud of, is a literal example of that.
Kieran Read immaculate
Doing player ratings is a nightmare. No one agrees on them. Except for Kieran Reads performance in the first test. It was a straight ten. There are plenty of players in world rugby capable of making that hit on Owen Farrell and there are plenty of players who are capable of executing that one handed pass from the floor of the scrum – but there are few that can do both.
Read’s link play was immaculate and to put it into perspective he executed four times the number of passes of Taulupe Faletau – himself a good link player. All of this was made more remarkable by the fact that this was just Read’s fifth game of the season. There are some very good number eights in world rugby, but none come close to the Kiwi.