After a convincing defeat last week, The British and Irish Lions need to lick their wounds and come back with a victory this Saturday in Wellington, to keep this three-match series alive. Can they do it? This article looks at last week’s match, areas the Lions need to improve on, and finally, my matchday 23 which I believe has the best chance to keep this series alive.
Areas To Improve
The British and Irish Lions were out muscled and out fought upfront, which for many was a massive surprise. New Zealand forwards made far more dominant tackles, hit rucks and mauls with far more intensity, scrummaged well and on The Lions lineouts, were quick to bring down the jumper to the floor to avoid the rolling mauls that The Lions used in previous matches against Super Rugby sides. If The Lions are to succeed this weekend the front five has to show more physicality, make some big hits and show far more intensity in the exchanges. New Zealand attacked a lot around the fringes around their outstanding scrum-half, Aaron Smith and their offload game and speed of play was another level to The Lions. To again be in with a chance of winning this Saturday, The Lions have to compete more at the breakdown, look to counter ruck when there is an opportunity, and find a way to slow the ball down. New Zealand dictated the speed of the game due to their dominance, a massive challenge but The Lions have to change that.
The Lions did create opportunities and it was either final pass not going to hand or a wrong option taken at a crucial time, this has been a consistent theme throughout the tour. To beat New Zealand they have to take those chances, in my view, you have to score at least three tries in the game to beat New Zealand. The question is do we have the players to do that?
Dirty New Zealand Tactics?
Much has been made of some incidents that occurred on Saturday involving New Zealand players. Social media has seen many video clips of incidents such as Jerome Kaino bringing down Conor Murray after he got a box kick away. Sam Cane making contact with Jonathan Davies at a ruck, as well as other instances, spotted of shirts being pulled, blocking lines being run etc. Personally, I did not think the referee had a good game on the weekend, especially at the breakdown he missed countless times people being off their feet playing at the ball, and I think Jerome Garces on Saturday will referee that aspect quite differently, however, I do not think people should let incidents slowed down or freeze-framed mask the fact that New Zealand dominated the game on Saturday, they did not win due to a couple of missed incidents by the referee. Yes, New Zealand do at times, overstep the mark, but they are also the best team in the world, their skill levels and belief in their group is top class, and for me, The Lions also need to show a few the dark arts themselves,fight fire with fire if you will. Saturday, they need to match their intensity show a bit of meanness and pick players in the forwards who can stand up to the intensity New Zealand will bring, and then if we can get on the front foot have the backs who then have the ball and freedom to express themselves.
Lions Team Selection Has To Be Right
I have read many tweets on Twitter surrounding the back three, and many saying Liam Williams should be dropped due to his error when Rieko Ioane picked up his drop and raced in for a try, plus Elliot Daly being dropped due to the first New Zealand try when he was caught narrow, which gave Codie Taylor an easier run in. For me, both of these players should be kept. Williams every time he had the ball in hand looked dangerous and created room for others, the player has a number of times now given Super Rugby teams and the national side problems, and the fact they will need to score tries why would you take him out of a game you must win? Daly, is an excellent footballer, did some good things on Saturday, and looking at the other options on this tour, still for me, should remain in the side.
The centre is a position I think Lions need to look at trying to get a bit more creation into. Ben Te’o on Saturday, got The Lions over the game line and in defence dealt very well with Sonny Bill Wiliams. My worry is in attack he can be very blinkered and at one point early in the second half when New Zealand was stretched in defence and Lions had numbers over, Te’o decided to come back inside and look for contact, he slipped and the momentum was gone. I would put Owen Farrell in at 12, a position internationally he has played for two seasons now for a very successful English side. Lions, I believe need a second ball player to be able to spot those opportunities and pick the right option. The Lions coaching staff made it clear before the tour started that they saw Farrell as a 10 on this tour. For me, he is an outstanding rugby player, but we have not yet seen that on this tour, put him back into his position at international level, and with Jonathan Davies who is in outstanding form, look to build a very strong partnership.
In the forwards, I would pick a pack who have an intensity to them, who have a bit of fire are not afraid to stand their ground, individually and collectively, and have a mixture of scrummagers, ball carriers and who are strong at the breakdown, a few early turnovers, and the energy that could provide to The Lions and the impact on New Zealand could be huge. Lions need to slow the ball down for New Zealand, and when there are scrums, they need to make New Zealand fight for every ball, especially in the first 30 minutes, put pressure on them, try to tire them out, so Brodie Retalick’s, Sam Whitelock’s and Codie Taylor’s of this world, are not out in open field running twenty or thirty yards running with the ball in hand, having endless energy, sap that energy, make them work in every set piece exchange.
Bearing all that in mind, this would be my Lions matchday side.
15. Liam Williams
14. Anthony Watson
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Owen Farrell
11. Elliot Daly
10. Jonathan Sexton
9. Conor Murray
1. Joe Marler
2. Rory Best
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Courtney Lawes
6. Peter O’Mahony
7. Sam Warburton ©
8. Taulupe Faletau
L Halfpenny, B Te’o, R Webb, M Vunipola, J George, K Sinckler, I Henderson, S O’Brien
The Lions have to win, this is it, be bold and execute, can they do it? Well, we do not have to long to wait to find out.