Lions Selection: New Zealand Second Test

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Put up or shut up for B&I Lions

New Zealand enter the second test in buoyant mood hoping to build on their performance against a British & Irish Lions outfit who competed for fifty-five minutes of the first test only to fall off the standard required and allow New Zealand to hit with minimal fuss. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the upcoming second test.

Lions pack set piece key

The decision to name Jones over Itoje massively backfired. The athleticism and lineout partnership with Jamie George and George Kruis was sorely missed last weekend. Jones did try hard but the line-out was hit and miss, the maul was disappointingly average. Itoje’s speed and pace could have assisted the Lions back row to compete better against New Zealand who to be fair played the margins; not releasing the ball carrier, off their feet but Peyper failed to assert authority in the area. The breakdown area was a mess.

For the Lions to have any remote chance of winning this second test match, a much more cohesive front five performance is required. The scrum was inconsistent; a few lapses at engagement yielded New Zealand penalties which were clinically put away. The props potentially need to be freshened up. McGrath and Sinckler could be in line for starts to see if they can create momentum in the set-piece. Furlong and Vunipola have done little wrong but new prop options might potentially ask New Zealand more questions at scrum time.

Ineffective line speed

A keynote element of the Lions performance was their line speed; bordered on passive at times and allowed Barrett / Smith to establish territorial dominance. Lions need to provide tempo in their play on all facets.

The back row unit need require a rejig. O’Mahoney led from the front; attempted to disrupt the lineout but he and his back row colleagues were always under pressure in the breakdown from a New Zealand outfit who latched onto isolated ball carriers throughout. I suspect Sam Warburton will be asked to provide more breakdown capability.

If O’Mahoney is not starting, there is a question whether he features in the match-day squad. Back row fresh bodies are also required and does CJ Stander come into the equation? His direct running would provide New Zealand with questions to answer. I think Stander could slot into six for this second test.

New Zealand on this point were sublime. Their mobility and ability to support their line runners was on point throughout. NH rugby needs to learn from New Zealand in this aspect of play; mobility to evade the tackle and not engage in it is key which creates quicker ruck ball and forces defensive line breaks.

Defensive Organization

Teo and Davies need to start again this weekend. There were some good moments from the partnership last weekend and Lions management have made a conscious decision to name these players together. This is the test match three quarters pairing.

The defense out wide was exposed during the opening test match, more due to subdued defensive line speed inside to stifle ball carriers.

Daly and Watson at times were faced with massive defensive selections to make; do I come inside and support colleagues, try to intercept NZ passes. It was an unenviable scenario be faced. Liam Williams at full back showed his immense running ability; sublime run for the Lions first try but needs to provide more assurance in the aerial duels.

Defensive organization is key but it requires uptempo line speed and physicality inside to make this happen.

Murray Protection

Lions’ pack wholly failed to protect Murray at ruck time last weekend. Murray was targeted by New Zealand; tried to intimidate the Munster player with several late hits after the player had kicked the ball. The pack need to recognize this threat this weekend. Murray did as well as he could given the circumstances.

Gatland can issue as many sound bites on this point but the match officiating from Peyper has set the tone for the rest of the test matches; Murray needs to be protected by his colleagues, otherwise the pivotal scrum-half will get injured.

Opportunity Knocks

The British & Irish Lions had their chances against New Zealand last weekend but the lack of cutting edge and execution in the red zone (inside the 22) spoke volumes when you compared New Zealand and their opportunities.

Game management decisions and line running support needs to be better from the Lions. New Zealand and Kieran Read in particular emphasized when line runners are available and offloading is on point what can happen. Whether the Lions can improve in these facets of play in a week is questionable but it needs to improve massively.

Team Selection

Full Back: Williams

Wings: Watson, Daly

Three Quarters: Davies, Teo, Daly

Half-Backs: Murray, Farrell, Murray

Back Row: Faletau, Warburton, Stander

Second Row: Kruis, Itoje

Front Row: McGrath, George, Sinckler