The New Zealand All Blacks have beaten the British and Irish Lions, 30-15, in the first test of the 2017 series. Although the Lions managed to score one of the great tries, they still went down to a superior New Zealand side.
The Lions threatened the New Zealand line on occasion, and found gaps in their defence, but, as like so many times on this tour, the Lions were unable to convert pressure into points, with one glorious exception.
The Lions almost had a dream start to the match, winger Elliot Daly been forced into touch at the New Zealand try line, only 2 minutes into the game. The Lions showed great intent, but it was New Zealand that first got points on the board.
First, through a penalty by Beauden Barrett. If it could be said that the star out-half had a weakness in his game, it was his kicking but he was sublime on the day, with a perfect record.
Soon after, the All Blacks scored the first try of the game. New Zealand had been awarded a penalty close to the line. While the Lions players turned, expecting the kick, scrum-half Aaron Smith, pouncing on their lapse, passed the ball on to Barrett, who passed to Israel Dagg.
Dagg through a pass out to hooker Codie Taylor. It was a poor pass, but the hooker showed the skill of an out-half, or a New Zealand front row, by catching the ball off his boot straps and running in to score. I remember seeing the great Australian out-half, Mark Ella, catch a pass like that on the Wallabies Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland back in 1984.
New Zealand were leading 10-0, and it looked like they were going to keep piling on the points, but the Lions responded in real style. Liam Williams took the ball in his own 22, found a gap and charged up the field.
He was caught by the defence but managed to pass on to Daly, who made more ground. Daly passed on to Jonathan Davies, who almost scored but was caught.
Williams managed to offload to Sean O’Brien who was in support, and had been for the full 80 metres, and O’Brien beat the defenders to score. It will go down as one of the great tries in Lions history. Farrell was unable to add the points, though, and the half finished with New Zealand, 13-8 ahead (with penalties by Barrett and Farrell).
New Zealand had been dominant in the first half, but the Lions had showed that they weren’t far behind. The second half started like the first, with the Lions been denied a try close to the All Blacks line.
It was a similar story, though. The Lions found the gaps but were unable to capitalise. New Zealand, in contrast, were more clinical in their play, with young winger, Reiko Ioane scoring 2 tries on his first start for the All Blacks.
The All Blacks were running away with the game, and it was 30-8 up to the last minute. But the Lions wouldn’t give up and managed to score right on the death, with replacement scrum-half, Rhys Webb, touching down.
New Zealand won comfortably, but the Lions showed some deft touches. The test series is still very much alive. The Lions need to be more clinical in their play, and watch their penalty count.
The question now is what changes need to be made to the Lions team for the second test? Liam Williams was the star for the Lions, with some lovely running. He made one grave error, where he was unable to collect a high ball, and Ioane pounced to score his second try. Despite the mistake, he should be left where he is for the next test.
Both wingers, Daly and Anthony Watson, were great in attack, but caught out in defence. I would still like to see George North get a chance. The giant wing is a big game player.
Jonathan Davies was another superb performer. The All Blacks seemed unable to contain him and he made yards every time he had the ball. Te’o did a great job of nullifying the great Sonny Bill Williams, rekindling a rivalry from their rugby league days.
Farrell was unable to get a hold of the game, but neither was Sexton when he moved into out-half. I believe Warren Gatland may decide to start next week’s test with Sexton at 10 and Farrell at 12, which would mean moving Te’o to the bench.
Murray played well, though he was outclassed by his opposite number, Smith. Webb did well when he came on, capped off by scoring a try, but I don’t think he’s good enough to start the second test. Great impact sub, though.
The pack were outclassed on the day, unable to get a firm hold of the game. Vunipola and Furlong didn’t have their usual affect and Kyle Sinkler did some damage when he came on as a replacement. There’s nothing between Jamie George and Ken Owens at hooker.
The pace of the game seemed to be beyond Alun Wyn Jones, and he was visibly struggling to keep up with it. George Kruis didn’t have a great game, and he is on the bench for Tuesday’s game against the Hurricanes. Maro Itoje should get a chance from the start next week to have an affect on the game.
Sean O’Brien was the best of the Lions pack, been destructive in defence and attack all over the field. Peter O’Mahony wasn’t his usual dominant presence and Falateau was outclassed by Kieran Reed. The New Zealand captain was a colossus in his first game back after breaking his thumb 6 weeks ago.
I would like to see a back row of Peter O’Mahony, Sam Warburton and Sean O’Brien. I think that would be an exciting combination.
The Lions are still in with a chance of winning the test series, but the advantage is still with New Zealand. It’s always easier when you’re 1-0 up in a series.
Only once have the Lions come back and win a test series after losing the opening game. That was in 1989, the great series against Australia. The Lions had lost the first test, but changed their team, and their tactics, and won the second two tests, winning the series.
The Lions were helped in the last test by the great David Campese, who made one of the most memorable errors in sport, where he tried to run the ball from his own line and was caught and Ieuan Evans touched the ball down to scored. A mistake from one of the true greats in rugby.
That Australian side went on to win the World Cup, 2 years later, in 1991, which shows what a strong team they were and what a great victory by the Lions it was.
The 2017 Lions can still win the series, but not if they don’t watch their mistakes, keep their penalty count low and finish attacking moves with the ball on the opposing try line.