British & Irish Lions 24 – 21 New Zealand

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Winner take all next weekend

The hooter rang and Conor Murray kicked the game dead to level the series and setup a fascinating series final back in Auckland next weekend. 24-21. Lions win against a fourteen man New Zealand. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the game.

Sonny Bill Williams

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Pivotal game moment

The pivotal moment of this second test. A shoulder charge on Anthony Watson in the twenty-five minutes looked horrible on the replay and the red card was merited. However, the delay in issuing the red card bordered on the ridiculous. Garces’ conviction to issue the red after the replays was admirable. It was a poor attempt to tackle and SBW can have zero complaints. The first New Zealander to be sent off on home soil, only the third in all time. New Zealand battled gamely but the final quarter was too much and the British & Irish Lions took full advantage.

Penalty Guzzling Central

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Mako Vunipola discipline summed up Lions

Thirteen penalties conceded and still the British & Irish Lions won the test match. It was a horrendously ill-disciplined performance as New Zealand kept in touch in this contest with several soft penalties. Beauden Barrett’s miscued performance from the tee left the Lions off the hook and the penalty count will have to improve next weekend. The discipline issues were best summed up by Mako Vunipola who had a meltdown in the second half conceding two quick fire penalties, the second penalty concession resulted in a sin bin. It was probably a blessing for the side that he was forced off as the red mist had descended. Video analysis will be tough viewing on this aspect for the British & Irish Lions.

Defining Last Quarter

18-9 entering the final quarter with a performance lacking composure and game management, you have to give the British & Irish Lions kudos for the way they stuck at the task, exposing fatigue in the New Zealand ranks defensively to score two tries. Faletau’s effort was reward for enterprising Lions attacking play, change the focus of attack from one side to another. Murray has to be credited for sensing the need to switch the point of attack. The Munster scrum-half’s try was excellent; a try out of absolute nothing and was reward for a good performance. New Zealand were now on the backfoot and with increased line speed from the bench, the momentum of the test match has decisively shifted.

Sub Bench Impact

This aspect of play was won by the British & Irish Lions. All subs that came on made an immediate impact. Courtney Lawes’ line speed, tempo and tackle count inspired those around him and complemented the imposing Maro Itoje in the second half. Kyle Sinckler has being the find of the tour; solid in open play and provided stability on set piece. He won the pivotal penalty at the death. Jack McGrath and Jack Nowell (meters gained leader) were assured in their work. New Zealand cleared their bench to little effect and¬†Faumuina’s cameo will be remembered for his late hit on Sinckler which setup the game winning penalty from Owen Farrell.

Penalty Kicking

In a tough evening for penalty kicks, Farrell edged his duel with Barrett who came up trumps with a high pressure kick to win the test match at the death. Barrett will rue a couple of penalty miss early in the second half as pivotal game changers. Given the number of penalties leaked by the visitors, the hosts would have expected a better return in penalty conversion rate. A telling aspect to the result tonight but Barrett will bounce back and provide stability to the kicking tee next weekend.

Lions line speed on point

The passive line speed seen by the British & Irish Lions last weekend was non-existent this weekend, excellent first up defensive line speed which stopped New Zealand go forward ball. The displays from the likes of Itoje, O’Brien set the tone and credit where credit is due, Jones and Warburton came up trumps. Jones was workmanlike and Warburton slowing New Zealand ball down at the breakdown. Murray was protected throughout in his kicking game. Yes, there were offside concessions but you need to be on the edge to gain the advantage in a test match like this.

Lions played a bit

In dreadful conditions, the British & Irish Lions played an expansive style and the two tries scored were reward for this approach. It was a bold statement when many would have suspected that they would be defensive and conservative. The sending off was a key point but Lions started the game on the front foot and this pressure laid the foundation for the final quarter tries. Kudos to the Lions. Roll on next weekend!

 

 

 

New Zealand and Lions Team Selection

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Halfpenny omission a surprise

New Zealand and the British and Ireland Lions have announced their starting lineups for the first test match. Both teams have made unexpected switches, taking many pundits by surprise. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the team selections and wonders if Gatland’s gamble will pay off at the weekend.

British and Irish Lions

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Form over reputation selection

For Maro Itoje and Leigh Halfpenny, the first test team selection will be a disappointment. Both players looked like first names on the team sheet but management have thought otherwise. Jones gets the nod to partner George Kruis in the second row, a solid selection but question marks remain on match fitness as well as his lineout relationship with Jamie George linger for me personally.

The lineout is an area where the Lions cannot falter; this needs to be a solid platform and with Itoje familiarity with George for both club and country, it looked like an obvious choice. The jury is out on this selection as Itoje will patiently look for his chance to impress off the bench. Jones’ work rate is not the issue, more continuity of hooker and second row partnership built against the Crusaders and Maoris.

Halfpenny has being solid but perhaps has paid the price for the try concession against the Maoris when both he and North failed to deal with an innocous kick behind. Halfpenny’s kicking off the tee has being exemplary and his game reading overall has being on point apart from that Maori try which personally thought was more North’s responsibility than the Toulon player. Halfpenny can feel a little aggrieved not to be included in the starting lineup.

Liam Williams comes in as full back. An indifferent start to the tour but the Scarlets player took his opportunity superbly yesterday with a superb all action performance against the Chiefs. If Williams can continue in the same vain, the selection will be merited. Williams’ pace is superb and his kick game out of hand is usually on point. No issues with the selection; shows the strength in depth for full back. Imagine if Hogg was still on tour.

Daly inclusion was coming. North’s performance against the Maoris opened the door and the Wasps player took the opportunity yesterday to put his hand for selection with an excellent performance. His strengths are his pace and big boot which may come to play with long range penalty attempts. His ability to create openings was evident in the victory over the Chiefs this week. Daly, Williams and Watson provide an extremely pacy back three for Lions to use if the game gets very open and loose.

The rest of the selection I think was along familiar. Teo at twelve is no surprise, his cameos on tour with Davies at thirteen meant that Gatland and management had the former league convert in their thoughts for the test series. Murray and Farrell will be a solid half-back partnership. Murray’s box kicking game hopefully to put the likes of Dagg under immense pressure early to establish territory.

Farrell at ten will be targeted in his defensive duties. His game management is on point and it will be key for the Saracens player to set the tone early, establish territory for the Lions to potentially test New Zealand in the lineout.

Delighted for Peter O’Mahoney who has being named Lions captain. A player who leads by example. Gatland looking to target the New Zealand lineout with three genuine jumpers in the ranks. O’Mahoney will empty the tank and with the undoubted quality of Warburton coming off the bench, the breakdown area will remain competitive. The lineout disruption that O’Mahoney brings to proceedings cannot be underestimated and the lineout battle will be key for Lions to exploit particularly in this opening test.

O’Brien edges the battle for the seven jersey and Faletau was always favored for the eight jersey when Billy Vunipola withdrew from the tour. An experienced side on paper and one that will look to take the battle to New Zealand in the pack and hope to yield penalties and set a platform.

New Zealand

This is an imposing first fifteen announced by Steve Hansen today. Kieran Reid returns to the national side after a two month absence (broken thumb). Questions maybe on game time but no doubt, training has being massively intense. The pack for New Zealand is quite experienced with names such Franks, Retallick, Kaino, Reid. Cody Taylor will look to execute the lineout with efficiency; it will be interesting to see if the Lions can exploit any weak points in this set piece. The scrum looks 50/50 and match officiating will be key in the initial scrummages.

Smith and Barrett are a quality half-back pairing. Smith has put his off field indiscretions to one side and gets the nod to partner Barrett who showed his full array of skills in the trouncing of Samoa. Kicking was on point as well as making the right passing call at the right time. The center partnerhip of Williams and Crotty looks explosive. Williams was sublime for the Blues early in the Lions tour; his offloading was superb and it will be a challenge for the Lions to stop the momentum of Sonny Bill in this department.

Crotty is such a quality player; no fuss attitude and is well capable of producing a sensational line break from absolutely nothing. Dagg and Smith complete the side; not a weak point in sight. This is such a formidable outfit. Lions will look to stifle upfront and the back row battle will be key to slow down New Zealand ball. However, Lions are going to have to endure moments where Smith / Perenera gets quick early ball. New Zealand could be devastating. Hopefully, the Lions will learn from their mistakes on the tour so far and produce a stirring performance. Otherwise, New Zealand could quite easily hammer Lions. When you can afford to drop Milner Skudder and Julian Savea, life is good.

 

 

 

Lions Tour – Reflections

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Decision time for Gatland and the B&I Lions

This article was written last night before the Lions team announcement. Several keynote inclusions revealed today proving that no-one should try to predict what Warren Gatland does in team selection.

Introduction

Almost three weeks down on the British & Lions Tour and at last momentum and form is being generated by the tourists. A dominant victory over the Chiefs this morning means that the British & Lions party enter preparations for the first test match against New Zealand in renewed hope and confidence. Who has impressed, who has ground to make up and who will form the first fifteen for the first test? Hawkeye Sidekick reflects.

Front Row

Several players have stood out on the tour so far. The front row on duty against the Crusaders and Maori’s seem to have the upper hand in terms of test match selection. Furlong, George and Mako Vunipola look most likely to fill the front row spots. Their consistency over recent weeks probably gives them the edge over their midweek counterparts who have struggled at times for cohesion in set piece.

Second Row

The second row is very intriguing. Given that Jamie George looks to be ahead in the hooker position depth chart, will Gatland look to George’s club mates in Maro Itoje and George Kruis to retain continuity and set piece partnership which has being superb for Saracens this season. Obviously, Jones comes into the equation here. A natural leader of the pack. Ian Henderson has grown into the tour as well; his performance today was excellent. Gatland has options in this line so it will be interesting to see who he picks.

Back Row

The back row options is also an intriguing selection poser for Lions management. Peter O’Mahoney’s captaincy cameo has increased his chances of a test match this weekend; more strengthened by the fact that Sam Warburton is struggling for fitness.

O’Mahoney’s threat in winning opposition line-out is a real positive for the team. Warburton’s work rate and breakdown work is sublime. What does Gatland go with? I think it is far to presume that Faletau will be the number eight given the absence of the man mountain Billy Vunipola.

The other back row position is very much up for grabs. Plenty of candidates are putting their name up for selection. Sean O’Brien probably is in the box seat considering his performances over consecutive weekends but with the likes of Stander, Tipuric and Haskell in the mix, selection looks arduous. Why do I have a sneaky feeling that Justin Tipuric will be picked for this test match? Superb at the breakdown, stealing opposition ball. Gatland may conceivably go with two Welsh players in the back row.

Scrum-Half

The nine position is pretty much a lock at this time. Murray’s displays have being on point; his box kicking provides a superb platform for the Lions to exploit New Zealand back line in the air. Hopefully, the kick chase will be on point to win the territorial battle. The decision is who fills the backup scrum-half position. It looks like Laidlaw is second in the depth chart and his ability to kick penalties will be a plus. Webb has had flashes of brilliance but also flashes of indiscipline.

Fly-Half

The ten position is an area where discussion will reign. Biggar today had an excellent outing today; his game management and control were superb all game. Biggar is a different animal when he needs to prove people wrong. I think the performance today was for management to say that he wants to be part of the test match setup. A performance which will resonate with management.

If management decide that Owen Farrell will play at twelve, then the ten jersey is very much for grabs. Sexton looks to be in a good position to take the jersey given his weekend cameos but I have concerns that New Zealand will look to target the player with aggressive ball carrying. Sexton’s skill set is abundantly clear but whether he is able to ship more devastating knocks is a different question. His form is slowly coming together. The ten jersey selection is not as clear some may suggest.

Three Quarters

The three quarters looks like it will Ben Teo and Jonathan Davies unless there is a total change in management thinking. Gatland is an admirer of Teo; his abrasive ball carrying and potential offloading game looks to be catching the eye more for Lions management than the cameos of the likes of Henshaw and Joseph who have had flashes of brilliance. Davies is the all round thirteen; his game management will be key and his ability to game read New Zealand attacking plays will need to be on point.

Wings

The wings looked like a straightforward selection for management up until the start of the Chiefs fixture when the likes of Eliot Daly and Jack Nowell announced themselves to the tour. Nowell was all action throughout; his work rate and ball carrying were on point. His aerial dominance probably was the standout for me. Daly has it all to be frank. His speed, pace and kicking game means that he is guaranteed a spot in the test match squad. Whether the Wasps player is selected to start is a different story. George North has being put on notice that anymore mistakes like against the Maori’s will mean demotion from the starting lineup. I would expect North to start, the man for the big occasion tag needs to stick at the weekend, otherwise Gatland and management will get plenty of flak.

Anthony Watson has done little wrong in this tour. Lively with ball in hand and has performed his defensive duties with efficiency, the England winger is a cert to start unless management has a fundamental shift in team selection.

Full Back

The full back spot is a lock for Leigh Halfpenny. The Welsh star is so consistent in his kicking off the tee and is probably one of the first selections made by Gatland ahead of the weekend. It is a great shame that Hogg is no longer on the touring party. Liam Williams and Jared Payne had good cameos today but the loss to the Highlanders exposed both last week which has probably gone against them in test match selection.