Friday 30 June 2017: I write this on the eve of the Second Test between the British & Irish Lions and the All Blacks. I shall comment further after tomorrow’s match.
There is so much rugby to watch.....the Springbok vs France tests, which were disappointingly one-sided, the British & Irish Lions tour of NZ, the resumption of Super 18. Against France, the home team were impressively aggressive and played with far better basic skills in every department. The French were disorganised and pressured into silly mistakes which the Springboks capitalised on. I have never seen worse passing from an international side than that shown by the French. Passes at the head, behind the head, passes spun below the knees. I watched in horror at this suicidal lack of ability to get the ball wide even if the opposition were up quickly and determined. It became more marked as the match went on.
On box kicks: how interesting to note that in the first and second tests, Ross Cronje kicked four of them, in the third test, Hougaard kicked one(!), while in the first test between the B&I Lions and NZ, Connor kicked twelve, almost one from every scrum. Amazing! Of course, accuracy is the key and Murray is very precise in his execution, but, ironically, it was a box kick from the All Blacks that led to Loane’s first try. Liam Williams dropped the ball, it bounced favourably for the All Blacks and Loane was off and over. To atone, Liam Williams began a movement which led to one of the greatest test tries of all time, finished by O’Brien going over after exhilarating inter-passing from the B&I Lions 22. Wonderful!
There are fewer and fewer scrums as passing and handling skills improve. The All Blacks set the standard. They are masters of the quick pass, the lobbed pass – e.g. to Codie Taylor hanging wide when the B&I Lions were caught napping. The offload, exhibited by the strong and clever centre, Sonny Bill Williams, is a powerful tool. I don’t see it appreciated by other sides. I’ll watch tomorrow to see if Sonny Bill breaks the tackle and sends his supporting backs away. The only way to counter it is with the smother tackle with the ball as the target. Am I wrong in thinking Sonny Bill and others only use this offload when they are running to the right? I’ll watch with interest to see if this is so. It’s certainly something the B&I Lions coaches should be picking up on.
The decision by Gatland to drop his most impressive centre, Ben Teo, is troubling. For the second test, Gatland has, in effect two flyhalves in Sexton and Farrell, at pivot. I suspect, the visitors will miss the fast and aggressive running of Teo, but we’ll see. Apart from one very successful scrum by the All Blacks, who always reserve this for a crucial moment in the game, the teams were evenly matched. Unless the B&I Lions team for tomorrow, Saturday July 1st, can counter the All Blacks strategy of running the ball ‘close’ and tight with inside passes off flyhalf to flank or blindside wing, it’s going to be tough when the New Zealanders then swing it wide to Read or Taylor.
The British & Irish Lions tour of NZ has been enthralling with the visitors standing up with skill and courage to the fierce aggression of New Zealand provincial teams. The match against the Hurricanes was a cracker and produced rugby of the highest quality: result 31-31. The B&I Lions lost to the Highlanders in another wonderful game. Reason why the visitors lost? Well, Daly, on the left wing, missed three touch kicks from his 22, from one of which the Highlanders scored. Also, Farrell missed an easy penalty in the last ten minutes, which would have won the match.
Low moment of the B&I Lions vs Highlanders match was when the home team won a scrum and all manner of exaggerated self-congratulatory scenes occurred. This is a disturbing trend in the modern game, when forwards, on winning a scrum, embrace each other with unseemly passion. The Highlanders tight five would have won more Tony Awards as drama queens than the actors on Broadway. Backs were patted, there were jeers at the opposition and, generally, these idiots carried on like soccer players who have scored a goal. I am convinced that scrum coaching is in inverse proportion to the time taken by scrums on the field. Go figure, as the Americans say.
Saturday 1 July 2017: The Second Test in Wellington.
What a fantastic victory for the visiting British & Irish Lions by 24 to 21; two tries to nil. Apart from an inexplicable period of about twenty minutes in the second half when the Lions conceded four kickable penalties through indiscipline, they were dominant in all phases. Playing in awful weather with rain and wind present for almost half of the match, the Lions sustained a defensive barrier which the All Blacks could not penetrate.
The ‘red card’ given to Sonny Bill Willaims in the first half for a dangerous, no-arms head tackle to Watson’s face, gave the visitors momentum when they needed it. The two tries in the second half scored by Faletau and Connor respectively, were superb. This had followed the application of relentless Lions pressure. Farrell’s final penalty from in front, awarded despite the protestations of Faimuina and his skipper, Read, clinched the game.
Are there chinks showing in the All Blacks’ poise? I detected they were becoming rattled and frustrated as the match neared its end. Even the biased NZ commentators were prickly. The truth is they are not used to losing but they will come back determined to win the final test in this great series. When last did the All Blacks fail to score a single try in a test match?