@Crucial said in All Blacks vs. B&I Lions test #1:
Edit: credit where it is due to a good article by Stuart Barnes. If anyone has cut and paste abilities for the Times others here may wish to read it
"The Lions are on the horns of a dilemma. If they play with as much attacking fluency as they did for much of yesterday’s match they open the way for New Zealand to cut them to pieces. If they strip back their game and attempt to take all tempo out of the match they will be criticised on all sides, unless they win. And the chances of that are pretty remote. Remote but not out of the question.
For all the brave talk in defeat, for all the majesty of what was one of the great Test match tries, the Lions are doomed if they see that score as the template for how to win in Wellington. That try was exceptional. British and Irish rugby is not. It may well be that last night was as good as it gets in attack.
There is constant talk of chances being created, not finished. It echoes through the press conferences of this tour. The failure is so repetitive because it takes a higher quality player to turn most chances into tries. Lions make breaks but, most of the time, the support isn’t close enough, the final pass isn’t good enough.
When the Lions get turned over my eyes immediately scan the New Zealanders ready to counterattack. It makes a match into a magnificent spectacle as much of yesterday’s game was. It is also a style of rugby with only one possible outcome.
The Lions say they can fix the fault lines from Auckland. The tries not being finished is not easy to fix. Otherwise the squad would have fixed them three weeks ago. Another awful problem that keeps popping up is the lack of discipline and the number of errors. “Discipline wasn’t where it was at,” said Peter O’Mahony. “Discipline and errors cost us,” said Jonathan Davies. The Lions talk about these issues. They do not resolve them. When they play at a pace to which they are accustomed, the penalty count drops to acceptably low levels. However, when the game spins out of control, as it did against the Blues, Highlanders and again yesterday, the penalty count rises into the teens. They haven’t worked out (or maybe acknowledged) that the quicker the tempo of the game, the more mistakes — penalties and errors alike — are made. Things are happening at a level outside their comfort zone. This is when the fixable (yet still unfixed) penalties and errors are made.
The breakdown has been an area of strength, especially against the Crusaders and Maori, where the Lions pack dictated the pace of the game. Not last night, not against the All Blacks. Suddenly the players were puffing, oxygen levels low as they struggled to think straight at the point of contact. New Zealanders, playing at a more familiar lick, bossed the breakdown.
If you lose the breakdown against the All Blacks you lose the match. So it transpired. The stark reality is that no matter how much the Lions finishing, discipline, error count and breakdown improves, only a quantum leap will see them beat a home team happy with a fast game. New Zealand too will improve.
The more committed the attacking intent, the greater the opportunities available for each side. There was something noble about the Lions performance, something truly admirable, but a winning formula it was not. I can envisage a scenario where the Lions play even faster and better and score, say, four tries instead of two. If that happens the All Blacks will probably double their own tally and score six. 60-30 to New Zealand.
The greater the ambition the more the outcome is settled by players and not strategy. Look through the two squads and it is hard not to notice the marked superiority of the Kiwis. Man for man they are more skilled; which is why they tend to take their chances and we Europeans do not. The inability not to link missed opportunities with skill deficits is truly mind-boggling but we are intent on pretending New Zealand are not that much better than the rest of us when the results scream otherwise, year after year.
Play the same game and go down in flames. Play a game with more box kicking, as we saw in the first 30 minutes in Auckland, more kick, more chase — all done well of course — and they might box the Blacks in, in the right parts of the field. Close enough to the line to turn last night’s many excellent line breaks into tries.
An ugly plan will win no friends outside the UK and Ireland. Maybe a few within would prefer their rugby as wondrous as the one try to which we were treated at Eden Park. Such a game will lead to penalties and errors, which ends in defeat. It has happened three times already this tour. Bet your last Kiwi dollar that New Zealand will be praising the Lions attacking game and luring them towards the rocks."