A very good win and will bring huge confidence to the touring party. The forwards were awesome, especially in the second half.
Defence very good, good line speed and didn’t give the Maoris a sniff.
Attack needs to be far more clinical though and to take advantage of the half breaks that are made. Support lines need working on as in the first test, line breaks will probably be few and far between and they need to take advantage of any chances they get. The ABs are extremely good in their support work and off loading and I doubt that they would let such opportunities go.
Overall, just a shame that the backs couldn’t get over the line as it would have done wonders for their conference.
The attacking options do need more working on and not just the backs. In the first half particularly, the second rows were both taking the ball too slowly in midfield from a standing start and slowing things up. There is no reason why the forwards can’t take the ball at pace and go again around the fringes once they’ve made an initial half break. This then has the benefit of tying the opposition forwards in. However, slow plodding forwards in midfield does nothing and allows defences to re-set and destroys any attacking momentum.
Faletau makes much more ground and drives much lower as do O’Brien and Mako, who both make good ground from a standing start, especially Faletau from restarts.
Another slight bug bear of mine is team’s obsession with kicking away advantage ball. Here, Murray did it in the first half when the Lions were attacking and only about 15 metres out. His kick to Watson on the right wing was highly speculative and Watson seemed to be outnumbered anyway. Ok the Lions got 3 points from the penalty but they were always going to get that when this was a big opportunity to keep hammering away at the line and trying to score a try which could have been huge for confidence and momentum. From a defending teams perspective, they would much rather the attacking team needlessly kick the ball away and concede 3 points rather than having to defend for their lives with potentially 7 points on the line. Sexton has done the same thing in previous matches and he did it again today when actually he was in a far better position and arguably a lower wider kick to his left might have led to a try.
As for the tries, a big positive for the forwards to get the penalty try and huge for their confidence. Ditto when Itoje scored in similar circumstances.
However, playing devils advocate, surely with an extra man (the Maoris had lost their no 9 to the sin bin, unluckily in my view) and the 10 moved to scrum half for the scrum, surely a simple back move would have led to a try as the Lions had more numbers out wide ? This is perhaps ultra critical in view of the outcome but simple rugby logic would dictate that the ball should be moved wide where the Lions had a numerical advantage rather than get into a forward struggle.
General kicking was much improved from previous matches and both Sexton and Murray set the tone and dictated where the match was going to be played. Low grubber kicks were also proving very effective as an attacking weapon in the second half in the wet conditions. The Maoris try had already illustrated that. However, one caveat, they were playing behind a dominant forward pack and they might not get such an easy ride next week
Marks out of 10, lots of high scores today
Halfpenny 8 A good footballer with a good rugby brain. Can take and give a pass. Excellent goal kicking and kick chase. Looking more and more like the test 15, especially as he’s kicking for goal rather than Sexton. Only disappointment was their first half try, he should have left it for North and held back slightly. Brilliant pick up in the second half off the floor in the wet. Just a shame that he’s lost that extra yard of pace
Watson 7 Dangerous yet steady and reliable too. Good kick chaser but alas didn’t see much ball in hand, probably due to the wet conditions. Guaranteed test starter
J Davies 8 A good match. Experienced and another with a good rugby brain. Deceptively quick, good running lines and and made some good breaks plus little grubber kicks. Good in defence too. Nailed on test 13
T’eo 7 Strong with ball in hand, often making breaks and dangerous. He does need some support though when he’s made a break. Distribution looking ok too but maybe just needs to look for support sometimes as that could be one of the Lions best chances of scoring. Strong defensively too. With Farrell’s injury he’s looking like the test 12
North 6 Disappointing. Not invoked enough, playing well within himself and not really on his ‘A’ game. He will be disappointed with the Maoris try even though it was wet. It feels like he needs to go searching for action a bit more and be a bit more assertive. I compare this situation to one in the 6N when his place was in doubt. He seemed to take it to heart then and in the next match and he came out visibly more determined and made a huge difference, scoring a try early, popping up all over the place and making a real nuisance of himself with his pace and power. I just think he needs a real kick up the arse and be told in no uncertain terms that whilst he will start in the test team unless he gets a grip and plays like everyone knows he can, he won’t be picked for the second test. Interesting that he got taken off with 20 mins to go for Daly and Gatland may see Daly as a more dangerous runner but alas he didn’t see much of the ball either.
Sexton 8 There was talk of his mojo returning and it certainly has, had an excellent match in all respects. Played with his head up, good distribution and kicking and made some good breaks too. Seems far more relaxed now that he knows that he will be the test 10 and he can focus on his team play rather than his battle with Farrell for the no 10 jersey which made his play nervy and anxious at the start of the tour.
Murray 8 Another good match. Box kicking inch perfect. Longer clearing kicks good too. Didn’t quite work for him as an attacking threat and just couldn’t get away but another nailed on test starter.
Mako 8 Excellent in the tight and loose, and always wins a turnover in every match.
George 8 Excellent match in all respects. Line out throwing was on the mark in wet conditions, prominent around the pitch and part of a completely dominant front row. He takes responsibility too which I like and is often the one with ball in hand at the back of a driving maul and guiding the way forward. Should now start the first test especially as he is throwing in to his Saracens team mates in the second row and this familiarity can make a huge difference especially in pressure situations. That said, Owens is playing well too and is very lively and will give him a run for his money too.
Furlong 8 Strong and part of a hugely dominant front row. Deceptively good hands in open play too.
Itoje 8 Grew into the match and by the end he was majestic. The try visibly lifted him and from then he made ground with ball in hand, won line outs, put in more tackles and arguably cemented his place in the test team in what is probably the most competitive position. Has a huge engine and lasts 80 mins.
Kruis 8 Nailed on starter as line out leader and caller. Invariably steals one or two of the oppositions throws too in each match. Only criticism could be that he could do with taking the ball at more pace when standing off rucks in open play, as mentioned above.
O’Mahony 7 Captain of this victorious team and suddenly a contender for the test team and even as captain. Clearly highly respected amongst management and peers. Another decent match in all respects and reasonably prominent. It seems as though he has risen above CJ Stander in the pecking order and who would have thought that at the start of the tour. Works well as a pair with his Irish colleague again O’Brien and there is a lot to be said for such combinations.
O’Brien 7 Industrious, effective, prominent, rugged, all you want from a classic 7. Gets stuck in and like O’Mahony has arguably played himself into the test side. Good fitness as he lasted all match. Only negative was that he tried a couple of offloads which, in theory, was a good idea to keep an attack going. but here they didn’t come off and they could be punished by the AB’s counter attack, so needs to be mindful not to throw the ball away.
Faletau 7 Perhaps not quite as dominant and prominent as he has been but nevertheless another strong performance defensively and carrying the ball, where he always seems to make ground, and in the line out. Nailed on for the no 8 position.
Owens 7 Lively and prominent. A good replacement to have
McGrath 6 Not on for long but continued the forward dominance
Sinckler 6 ditto McGrath
Henderson 7 was very prominent in the tight and loose and made good ground on a few occasions
Warburton 6 Not on for long and had little time to make any impact. As things stand, it would be a surprise if he started after his recent injuries, even though he is tour captain
Laidlaw 6 Ok but has a fairly limited game, is quite pedestrian and doesn’t really add anything as a replacement. The call up of Gareth Davies might actually add to the squad as he is lively and can make a difference
Biggar 7 As in recent matches is looking confident and slots in relatively seamlessly. Could well be on the bench for the test team if Farrell doesn’t recover. Finn Russell’s arrival will add to the competition for the midweek side, but Biggar is currently ahead of him in the pecking order.
Daly 6 Gatland clearly sees something in Daly especially as North’s form is somewhat indifferent and interesting that Daly came on for North with almost 20 minutes left. Buzzed around but never really got a chance with ball in hand. Could quite possibly be on the bench for the test team due to his flexibility as a centre / winger / FB but I would play him in midweek on the left wing to give him more game time and an opportunity to get some ball in hand.
Other issue – the 6 new call ups.
Firstly such a shame that Moriarty has had to leave the tour, he had an excellent 6N ad had started the tour impressively too.
As to the 6 new boys, arguably only Gareth Davies and Finn Russell merit their call ups as the next best “cabs off the rank” in their positions but Danny Care and the rejuvenated George Ford might have something to say about that.
The others are only there due to proximity and the fact that they are there in NZ now so can hit the ground running. However this really does devalue the shirt and makes a mockery of all the principles of the selection procedure. I accept the fact that by picking players last night and today to be on the bench on Tuesday massively favours the Welsh and Scots but if Gatland knew that’s what he was going to do, why not do it 2-3 days earlier so that the English boys could get there. Cory Hill is a decent second row but how must English boy Joe Launchbury be feeling ?