Outgunned and Outmuscled……… British and Irish Lions Vs New Zealand All Blacks First Test Eden Park…24 June 2017

The excitement including mine preceding this game was of metronomic proportions, everyone was caught in the passion and drama of the special occasion that happens every 12 years. I am pretty sure the deep inquest and analysis to the Lions defeat is well and truly in session, there be will many views cast as to what transpired at Eden Park. I was very confident that Warren Gatland had picked a side capable of defeating the All Blacks at a venue they have not lost in twenty three years. The Lions are bristling with strength and quality to overcome the New Zealand team, add in the wet conditions and I thought this was a great opportunity to secure a confidence boosting victory. An explosive start to the game saw the Lions go a metre short of the try line. They should have scored as Connor Murray’s final pass was a fraction late to Elliot Daly and this type of precision or lack of would be one of the differences between the two teams. Daly would get bundled into touch by Israel Dagg, chance gone. Much has been said about Gatlands style of rugby named “Warrenball” yet I certainly did not expect the All Blacks to use directthe  route rugby and unlock the rush defence. However they are not the number one test team for nothing! The All Blacks pack dominated the Lions pack in the scrums, Tadgh Furlong was visibly struggling and his face showed midway of the first half. New Zealand second row Brodie Retallick was immense as time and time he led the charge in the narrow channels which left the forwards scrambling to contain him. The first try of the game was lesson in never switching off for the full eighty minutes; Lions defence coach Andy Farrell must have been having kittens as Lions had enough time to reorganise their lines after referee Jaco Pepyer had given the All Blacks a penalty. Scrumhalf Aaron Smith took a tap and passed to Barrett, who threw a long ball to Dagg and his long pass found hooker Codie Taylor patrolling the right flank and able to pick up the ball from his feet beating Daly to score. This is something that should not happen on a junior level let alone on the test arena. A positive from the Lions before the end of the first half would see them score a sensational try, Aaron Cruden posted a deep kick into Lions territory, Anthony Watson secured the ball on the touchline and fed fullback Liam Williams who fooled Kieran Read before setting off on an arching run, ghosting past Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill Williams in midfield to take play to the halfway line. Daly who did an in-out before sending it back to Davies who fed flanker Sean O’Brien in for a superb score. The half would be evenly poised at 13-8.
The second half saw chances go begging for the Lions despite being in theirs opponents 22, unforced errors would see them lose territory and possession at crucial times. The All Blacks were definitely not as generous, as they punished the Lions with timely precision. Their runners came onto the ball at pace which would allow them to go beyond the gain line. Centre Sonny Bill Wiliams was effectively used in the forwards channel as a battering ram and his offloads always found a recipient. The battle of the number eights was won by New Zealand skipper Kieran Read as he had an immense 77 minutes and outshone his opposite number Talupe Falateau. Read was involved in a crucial second half try, showing excellent hands at the back of the scrum to pick and off-load in the lead-up to Rieko Ioane’s try and move the game beyond the Lions reach. So what could have been for the Lions will make their video analysis session painful to watch. I would not recommend wholesale changes but perhaps a few tweaks. They were outmuscled in the forwards so perhaps bringing in Maro Itoje to start and the abrasive Courtney Lawes. I feel that skipper O’Mahony did not have good game and failed to lead his team vocally and especially in controlling the referee as at times the All Blacks were streetwise in some of their plays. Cue the inclusion of tour Captain Sam Warburton to the starting line-up, he was very good when he came on and is excellent at the breakdown an area they lost comprehensively. Sinckler or Dan Cole should replace Furlong on the tighthead position. The scrum cannot ill afford to have a bad day and not feed their backrow and backline of quality ball. Its baffling why Farrell had an ordinary game, however I would resist in changing the flyhalf. The backline was fantastic and should be allowed to carry on as they are and supply them with more clean ball to play with. Anthony Watson and Liam Williams were fantastic to watch. Despite the score line the team is very close to clicking as a whole, rugby is a team sport that requires cohesion,outright commitment and keeping that penalty count down is imperative. I am sure the chaps are hurting but they must take solace in that they bombed a few opportunities on Saturday. The All Blacks showed in doing the simple things right and very well victory is yours.What will define this Lions team and how they want to be remembered is in the manner of how they get up. They may have been outgunned and outmuscled but rise Lions  you must and roar.

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