Full marks for effort but Lions way off required standard to beat the All Blacks.
Watching intently as the first test unfolded at Eden Park, one could not help but hark back to a Conor McGregor quote:
“Precision beats power, timing beats speed”
While there is no doubting that the Lions have muscle and pace in abundance across the team sheet, they simply could not live with New Zealand’s clinical accuracy and efficiency.
Expectations that had peaked after recent wins over the Maoris and Chiefs have now been lowered to the point where Sky’s commentators were desperately clinging to Rhys Webb’s last minute try as a consolation going into next week.
It wasn’t. If the Lions are to harbour any hope of taking the series to the final game then they will need to be more clinical and efficient in attack and more switched on and disciplined in defence.
The fact that we have been saying this after every defeat since the tour began is indicative of a team that simply will not be able to make up the performance deficit quickly enough to threaten the All Blacks next Saturday.
While 30-15 suggests the Lions were competitive, in truth they were never within touching distance of the All Blacks as the minutes ticked down.
The Lions’ commitment could not be questioned and they gave everything for the cause. In the process scoring one of the great tries of the Lions era, when a Liam Williams counterattack was rounded off by Sean O’Brien for an astonishing try.
Not since Jean-Luc Sadourny’s effort back in 1994 – the last time the All Blacks lost at this venue – has Eden Park seen a try of such quality.
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Based on the performance from both sides, Wellington next Saturday is looking like a daunting prospect. If the performance is repeated we will see the series put the bed and the Lions staring down the barrel of a 3-0 whitewash.
The squad will have to take some positives from the game as they head to the south Island next week. They can improve but so too can their opponents, the fact that New Zealand didn’t seem to hit their usual heights on Saturday was worrying.
Finishing has been a momentum killer for the Lions on this tour and again in the first test – especially in the minutes after the break – Warren Gatland’s men left tries after them.
On the balance of play, the tourists had almost as many chances as the All Blacks but could not make it count. The All Blacks do not need to be asked twice. The chances that presented themselves were ruthlessly snapped up.
The tourists created 5 chances and took two, the All Blacks created 3 chances and took three. The Lions made mistakes, the All Blacks did not.
The set scrum and line out had been a useful weapon for the Lions up until the first test, able on inflicting damage on the Maori and Super Rugby franchises but yesterday parity was as good as it got for he visitors.
Warren Gatland’s side were negligent for stretches of the evening especially at the opening try when it looked as thought the All Blacks would take the three points on offer before a quick tap put Hooker Codie Taylor away in the corner for the opening try.
Kieran Read’s flick up to Aaron Smith at a dominant All Black scrum in the 55th minute sent his team on their way to the try-line again, rookie Rieko Ioane, diving in at the corner. It was another master-class in execution.
The All Blacks maintained their relentless pace, forced errors and Ioane’s second try of the evening saw the hosts take a fatal stranglehold on the game. The game was over, the post mortem just beginning.
While optimists will point to the fact that we are only one game into a two game test, the fact is this Lions have been dogged by the same issues since its arrival. It is nigh on impossible to make up the difference in the space of two weeks.
It what will undoubtedly be one of he most challenging weeks of Gatland’s coaching career, he prepare a team to try and win back to back games against the world champions. Wellington next week and back to fortress Eden Park for the finale.
Based on the performances to date it is too big an ask for this team.