At the risk of sounding like a broken record the Lions can create chances, and Jonathan Davies was at the centre of both of them, but they can’t finish them and, although the difference in the scores was too much for that to make the difference in who won, who can tell what difference the Lions scoring a good try in the first five minutes or so would have made?
The whole world knows the All Blacks are supremely efficient in attack and they defend in both structured and scrambling situations incredibly well. All of that was on display today as was their ability to play at speed and sustain it far better than any other international side. The brutal truth on the grand level is that the Lions couldn’t live with it throughout the match. They had moments, definitely, don’t get me wrong, but fundamentally the All Blacks were faster and fitter, which helped close down the breaks that the Lions made as well helping with converting the breaks that they made.
Without wishing to say “I told you so” as I suggested the scrums were far more even than the Lions against Canterbury. Some of that was Peyper letting collapsed scrums where the ball was at the back play on and instructing the scrum half to pass the ball out. But the All Blacks also clearly won a big scrum penalty at which point the Lions backs switched off - in the Northern Hemisphere you’d kick for points, especially since it was right in front of the posts - instead Read picked up, made a wonderful offload and Ioane scored the first of his brace of tries. The Lions retaliated a little later with a scrum penalty of their own but it was decidedly honours even.
In the lineout it was advantage Lions, but it wasn’t a truly dominant performance here and quite a lot of that edge was because the All Blacks tended not to jump and set up to defend against the maul, very successfully. When the did jump, such as at the end, they disrupted and stole lineout ball at critical times.
The much vaunted Lions defence, well as I suggested Hansen and co had methods to unpick it. The All Blacks were making metres easily throughout the game, even after Ben Smith went off with a head injury, Cruden was playing at 10 and Barrett moved back to 15 and some of his instinctive magic on the gain line was missing. They played a lot of Aaron Smith and they played a lot flooding players down the same channel. Eventually the defence was cracked, the Lions’ line was disorganised and going backwards, and then they could and did put width on the ball and bring their strike runners in. The Lions defence only won 5 turnovers to the All Blacks 10 - the Lions players concentrated on the penalty count, which hurt them too at 11-6 the wrong way, but the turnovers are probably more damaging against the All Blacks because they are suddenly attacking against a side that is not set up defensively. With this Lions side, generally the reverse is not true, sadly.
The big call of Ioane paid off as well, 2 tries and no serious errors against the Lions is certainly not bad. That brings his tally to three tries in three tests.
The Lions have played well in this game, don’t get me wrong. They put the All Blacks under pressure and they kept it closer than anyone except Ireland has in a couple of year. But, even if Ben Smith has to miss the remaining games with concussion, the All Blacks will look ways they can improve going forward, except possibly in that one position where the replacements are merely excellent rather than experienced and already the best in the world. The Lions, if they change their personnel, are looking at compromises. Is Itoje better than Jones for how they want to play? Is Owens or Best better than George? (The answer to that question is tricky because they’re all completely solid test-standard hookers and can do the core skills to the standard you’d expect, but they have slightly different areas where one is better than the other two.) Is a fully fit (and faster) Warburton better at blindside than O’Mahoney? (Again this is a complicated question, they can both play 6 at test level but they bring a different mix of attributes to the table. A really left-field change might be Tipuric and Warburton at 7 and 6 respectively - the Wales back row played excellently together in the Six Nations and might be more dynamic together against the All Blacks back row and even up the turn over count.) The list goes on. It’s that difference between training to improve or compromising your game plan and it seems that might be what the Lions need to do.
Players of note. Retallick, Ioane, Smith, SBW and Read all had big games for the All Blacks. A chunk of Welsh players: Davies, Williams and Faletau really impressed in their other red shirts. I considered putting Murray in this list - when his box kicking was good, it contributed, definitely, but all too often it seemed long to me (that might be a reflection that the All Blacks had played the game at their tempo and the Lions chase was slower than he was expecting, but he should be good enough to adjust for that) and although it didn’t clearly hurt them (it was a Sexton kicked that led to the second Ioane try) the All Blacks were often gifted time and space to run back and put the Lions straight back under all kinds of pressure. On that basis, I left him out.
Given he hadn’t played in ages and he went 76 minutes, and for that miracle ball off the ground around Murray’s back after the Irishman had kicked it through, I’m going to say Read was my personal star player.
The author does not allow comments to this entry