Sometimes you make it easy on the opposition. This was by far the Lions’ most exciting showing, but they met an New Zealand side at their clinical best just as their own error count climbed upwards. A final score of 30-15 shows that while the Lions worked hard, their mistakes were punished ruthlessly by the All Blacks.
The game was finely balanced at half-time, with the host leading 13-8 at the interval. For all of the All Black bluster – Israel Dagg did well to stop Elliot Daly scoring at the very start of the game, Codie Taylor scored smartly after Aaron Smith’s tap penalty was sent through Dagg’s hands to the hooker, and Beauden Barrett was also sharp off the tee – the Lions came back. Sean O’Brien’s first-half score was one of true beauty.
Liam Williams ran an unexpected arc, looking for all the world like he was lost. But he slid through a hole in the cover and sprung ahead. He fed Jonathan Davies, who would hit Elliot Daly and then take it back again, with both weaving as they ran. By the time O’Brien hared in at the inside, the try-line was awaiting him.
The second half was one of powerful intent form New Zealand, though. They started drawing a big number of Lions tackles. Then from a monstrous All Black scrum, the ball was flicked out to the backs and in a blink Rieko Ioane was found out wide to score. He would score another from a ball that bounced beyond Williams and the 20-year-old winger scorched past Daly. By this point the All Blacks were winning the collisions and forcing Lions errors.
A late score from Rhys Webb, who found a gap near the line as forwards piled up, made the scoreline look a little more respectable, however the game was lost between minutes 50 and 70.
The Lions can come back from this smarter and harder, but they need to eradicate the mistakes, get on the referee’s good side and capitalise in those moments when the All Blacks are rattled. Because their are holes there. But at the moment, New Zealand did not have to search for too long to find the Lions’ holes.
Here is what’s hot and what’s not from this opening Test.
Fun! – How entertaining was that?! If all Tests were like this, rugby would be the most popular sport in the world. From Barrett scooping balls off the deck on the sprint to Watson’s spectacular mark or Rieko Ioane’s searing run off a badly bouncing ball. Every try involved either sublime passing or a run at the highest pace.
Lions adventure – All that talk of the Lions being boring was a blown to bit. Sean O’Brien’s try was a thing of beauty, with Liam Williams arcing, and Jonathan Davies getting the ball twice on the way to the Irish flank’s score. Then early in the second the Lions swept forward with Davies again to the fore, trading passes with Conor Murray, with Anthony Watson snared in the corner, illegally. The Lions kicked to the corner, but coughed it up. That was quickly followed with another breakout from Watson.
Kieran Read‘s return – He has played very little rugby up to this point, being out since late April, but while other short-term returners like Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty were unable to survive the fire of this Test, captain Read powered on through. A fine knock from the New Zealand skipper.
Silly penalties – Any good defensive work gets undone when you commit a stupid sin. The Lions got into the first half when they cut out the nonsense, but then got right back at it at the start of the second with a senseless Ben Te’o tip tackle. An offside call at the wrong time or killing the ball near your posts or at their end can take games away from you. The Lions just gave away too many penalties.
Scrum blips – At the moment the Lions are solid in set-piece, but have one sleepy scrum a game. They did the same in this one, and with the All Blacks ploughing ahead, the All Blacks backs had all the acreage they would ever want to hit a flying Ioane for his first score. All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen was certainly happy with it after the match.
Lions power – The lineout drive didn’t get the edge it needed, but Warren Gatland was gracious enough to praise the direct style of the All Blacks, which dragged them forward. The Lions must smash everything next week if the All Blacks come right at them. And they must slow more ball down.
11 – The number of penalties the Lions gave away.
64 – The Lions made 64 more tackles than the All Blacks.
63% – The All Blacks’ territory.
New Zealand: Ben Smith (Aaron Cruden 26); Israel Dagg, Ryan Crotty (Anton Lienert-Brown 32), Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith (TJ Perenara 56); Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett 53), Codie Taylor (Nathan Harris 66), Owen Franks (Charlie Faumuina 53), Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock, Jerome Kaino (Ardie Savea 45), Sam Cane, Kieran Read (c)(Scott Barrett 77).
Try: Taylor, Ioane 2. Con: Barrett 3. Pen: Barrett 3.
Lions: Liam Williams (Leigh Halfpenny 72); Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te’o (Johnny Sexton 57), Elliot Daly; Owen Farrell, Conor Murray (Rhys Webb 67); Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath 51), Jamie George (Ken Owens 67), Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler 60), Alun Wyn Jones (Maro Itoje 47), George Kruis, Peter O’Mahony (c)(Sam Warburton 53), Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau.
Try: O’Brien, Webb. Con: Farrell. Pen: Farrell.