Doubtless the British media will be hailing a great victory over the Maori All Blacks but I'm not so sure. The MAB pack was always recognised as their weakness while for the Lions it's their strength. The weather was wet, which shifted the match to a mostly forward-dominated match, and the Lions duly won.
However, the only tries scored were a penalty try and a try off a 5 metre scrum, both while the MAB were down to 14 players. At several other 5 metre scrums when the opposition were at full strength and after two really excellent, deeply penetrating, line breaks those old attacking failures came back to haunt both the Lions and I suspect Rob Howley. The Lions defence looked good but, like the senior All Blacks against Samoa yesterday, they were playing a side with limited time playing together and with a pack that was always going backwards. Unlike the All Blacks the Lions gave up a try and several line breaks. The All Blacks pack will not be bullied as badly as the Maori were and their players will turn their breaks, even their breaks from deep, into points far more efficiently than the MAB did.
The Lions have got better at chasing kicks, but I lost count of the number of times Murray box-kicked or Sexton kicked to the back three and there wasn’t pressure nor a solid defensive line every time. In the conditions and after absorbing so much pressure the MAB couldn’t convert this into anything. The All Blacks back three, and Read if he’s back, and Beauden Barrett, will gobble that up and create tries. This might be a tactic where Gatland will aim to change it come the tests but if it stays, I think it will be one of those strength becomes weakness moments.
All that said both Te’o and Davies had good games, North didn't even on a day when wingers would struggle he should have been there for the Davies break to turn it into an easy try. Any commentator in the world can't help say any Kiwi side would have scored that and that's mostly down to North. You have to wonder where Halfpenny, Sexton and Te’o and probably O’Brien were too but some of them have excuses with being tackled and so on. North has no such excuse. All the pack played really well and could be next week's starters. Itoje and maybe George are the only two where that is in doubt. Alun Wyn brings maturity and stability, Itoje offers greater cover off the bench. The differences between Owens and George are, I think, between a slightly better lineout thrower, tackler and breakdown operator versus a slightly better scrummager and ball-carrier. That choice will depend to some extent on the style of play the Lions decide to adopt but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of them starting and the other one as the replacement. Halfpenny didn’t regularly offer the attacking options he’d been asked to but the conditions didn’t offer him the chance to do that and he was in the line in attack and completely solid in defence and with the boot. It’s hard to imagine they won’t pick him next week.
Unless it pours down in Auckland next Saturday, playing into the Lions style of play, and even then, I haven’t seen enough to make me think the first choice Lions team is up to the task of beating the All Blacks. Sir Clive Woodward, never one of my favourite coaches, used to use as one of mantras, TCUP - thinking correctly under pressure. Many of the Lions star players may think correctly, but they think and play too slowly. That is going to be the big problem come the tests as it was despite the scoreline and their dominance in the tight tonight.
And, on tonight’s showing, many of them don’t think correctly all the time. At the end of the half the referee awarded them a penalty and they kicked to touch. The laws have changed, and the referee correctly told them they have to play the lineout because they hadn’t tapped it to make it live before they kicked into touch. It’s a little thing and it’s a new law for the Northern Hemisphere, it’s been in place down under since the start of the year (and the Super Rugby season). You can forgive the players for getting it wrong, perhaps, you can’t forgive 3 senior players for chasing the referee to complain about his decision because they’d forgotten the laws of the game.
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