Courtesy of a migraine I missed the last test live, and I knew the result before I watched the match.
While there’s been quite a lot of discussion of Poite’s call (for my money the penalty call was right, they haven’t tinkered with that interpretation or the laws that I’m aware, and catching the ball makes it offside, not accidental offside, plus he blew too early, Alby had the ball and was running at the try line, what happened to advantage?) the All Blacks left one absolute sitter of a try, one harder chance (the Jordy Barrett forward pass) and one possible chance (the Beauden Barrett knock on… Faletau was there to try and tackle him, but we’ve seen Barrett the elder sidestep in that sort of situation) plus an easy penalty and a fairly easy conversion all get missed. That’s up to 26 points that they missed, but even if only the Savea try which really should have been scored was, that final decision was nothing like as important. (OK, the rest of the game doesn’t play out in the same way but the principle stands.)
That said, this was, more or less, a return to prediction - the All Blacks score tries, the Lions score penalties. This time, though, the All Blacks coughed up the ball and didn’t convert their chances and a lot of that was down to the Lions converting their (still often illegal) defence into enough pressure to force mistakes from the All Blacks. Ironically most of it was from the older heads, you wouldn’t want to have replaced Jordy Barrett or Laumape but, although the All Blacks used Savea coming in a lot more than they did Ioane - and they can because he’s a bigger, more heavy-weight, power runner - I bet Hansen wishes they’d stayed with Ioane staying out wide.
Everyone is praising the Lions but I honestly feel but for a rush of blood last week and a rush of butterfingers this week, they got very lucky. That is not to detract from the scoreboard - one win, one draw, one loss: series tied is a brilliant result. If Gatland does “retire” in two years time, he might be tempted back to lead the Lions to South Africa and have the amazing record of leading three successive Lions tours and, unless the Boks dramatically improve in the next four years (which could certainly happen) he could have a record of played three series, won 2, drawn 1 which is really superb.
Along with most others, my Lions player of the Series is Jonathan Davies. He looked incisive in attack and solid in defence throughout. It’s hard to think of a thing he did wrong in fact. I would put Faletau and Furlong up there too. Faletau rarely shone offensively, but when he did he really did, but, as usual, he did everything well - scored a try, made try scoring tackles, carried well, controlled the base of the scrum, aided in defence, linked in attack and all the rest. He doesn’t have the flash of a Vunipola but all round he is more solidly good at everything. Furlong I’m including because although the scrums (from both sides) never really achieved dominance in any of the tests, for a young prop to go and do that and not give away a string of penalties against the All Blacks (he gave away some, but every prop gave away some, Mako Vunipola got rattled so much he got carded and was, in my opinion, lucky to start the last test from both the citing commissioner and the selectors, but Furlong kept on going calmly and well. Murray and Williams are the other players that I might include but… they both come with big buts. Williams first - his positive contributions were big and positive but he was inclined to make too many mistakes at critical times. There was a try for Ioane in the first test. There was the knock on that led to the penalty or not in the third test. Decidedly NOT what you want from your fullback. Jordy Barrett’s mistake, under pressure, cost the All Blacks a try, rather than gifting the opposition one, almost two tries. Thinking back a “generation” Muliaina nearly always made a mistake in a game, but it was always a knock on near the halfway line and not so critical - you can live with that in a fullback that gets everything else pretty much perfect. Murray got a lot right but, again at fairly critical moments, his control would drift and those box kicks would be out on the full or would drift too long and even with the chasing players being offside there was no pressure and the All Blacks would counter effectively, or the early charge would be read and the ball returned with interest. In addition, some of his play is about raising the tempo and against the All Blacks that was never going to happen successfully. Even when they appeared to take their eye off the ball and had their back to the penalty before the kick for goal had been indicated and Murray went, they scattered and scrambled and it came to nothing. That isn’t his fault per se, but in combination with too many mistakes it just edges him out of my top three.
All Blacks player of the series I’m going to say Kaino, mostly because of the minutes he missed in the second test. It was obvious how much they missed him and what he does. Retallick does an enormous amount too and has to be up there for them. Despite his errant kicking I’m going to pick Beaudon Barrett as my third. Whenever they substituted him away from 10 the entire structure of the All Blacks changed, and changed for the worse. He guided a depleted pack in one test with a midfield and a winger with less than 20 caps between them and had it in the lead when he was moved to bring on Cruden. I’m not blaming Cruden for the loss, I think fatigue had a lot more to do with it but we’ll never know what Barrett would have done with that kick Cruden took that went out in the final minutes and what difference that would have made. In the final test, Barrett inspired his backline to make chances galore, Savea dropped a ball he should never have dropped, he dropped a ball that he shouldn’t have dropped, he made a pass that his little brother then passed forward under a lot of pressure. Forget his drop - I’m not sure he scores that try, although he might well have done - but if the other two tries were scored, we’re not worrying about his poor kicking. And that is what the All Blacks normally count on and why I’m including him. Alby, Read and Whitelock were hard done to here, particularly Alby who had almost three games and was excellent in all three of them against the Lions man of the series. Read and Whitelock were brilliant in one game each and solid in the other two. But solid for them is still a cut above almost any other player in their position in the world.
The author does not allow comments to this entry