What we witnessed last Saturday was a test match that contained all the essential ingredients for an edge-of-the-seat rugby experience. It was a match that certainly delivered beacons of hope but also inevitable heartbreak.
The Lions did the jersey proud, and for 60 minutes or so, were involved in a fierce contest that hung in the balance and could’ve gone either way.
However, in the end it (inevitably) went the way of the All Blacks. Why? Well, although they battled hard, the Lions failed to convert try scoring opportunities, fell off a number of tackles, lost concentration in a couple of key moments and were a few details away from a complete performance.
New Zealand on the other hand, the world’s best rugby team, took their chances, made the key tackles (for example Israel Dagg’s on Elliot Daly), eradicated mistakes from their game (give or take a couple of silly errors) and maintained their composure and focus up until the final whistle.
It was a complete team performance.
Their chemistry and synergy was on point, and is above and beyond any other side in world rugby. Yet, the individual talents within their make-up are astounding, and I believe it was some of these performances that really secured New Zealand’s victory.
After a couple of hiccups last year, and the talented TJ Perenara breathing down his neck, Smith needed a big game to assure Hansen he was his go-to 9. Well, he did that and some.
His metronomic box kicking was a joy to watch and the rapid ball that he delivered was the lynchpin in orchestrating the All Blacks attacking system. The Lions will need to put him under more intense pressure if they’re to stifle his creativity.
It’s incredible to think not that long ago, this fella was working as a fireman! He was mine, and many people’s, MoM last Saturday, due to his powerful running and steadfast defence. Yet, with this man-mountain, it’s about so much more than just brute strength and power.
When he opens those legs, and powers over defenders, he does it with the grace of a ballerina, and his deft touch means he’s as adept an offloader, as any back. He had the Lions lads on toast in the first test, but the inclusion of Itoje certainly had an impact – Maro is in from the start this time, so Retallick will have a bigger challenge this week.
Where to start with the current world player of the year? It was an impressive, if not spectacular match from BB, only due to his own lofty high standards.
He was forced out to full back early on, due to the injury of Ben Smith but controlled the game during his time at 10. When at 15, he barely put a foot wrong; apart from one poor grubber, which he rescued with a stunning, one-handed pickup.
I’d say that was Beauden Barrett at 75% on Saturday; Oh what he could bring to the fold if he plays at 100. One thing is for sure, there’s a lot of pressure on Sexton to make an impact at 10, and if he’s not careful, Barrett could viciously expose him. Boith he and Farrell must pin the All Blacks back in their half and counter Barrett’s attacking prowess…although it’s New Zealand – they’ll attack you from anywhere, with Barrett leading the charge!
The heir to the finest player ever to play the game (IMO); and I must say, Cane is filling the boots left by McCaw.
His defensive work against the Lions was unwavering and relentless, dominating the tackle area and breakdown. He sniffed out chances, seconds before the Lions back row, and it wasn’t until Warburton entered the fold that things began to become slightly more difficult for the All Black.
He wasn’t as obviously defiant, as the likes of Retallick or Kieran Read (who was phenomenal) but he is both unyielding and indispensable.
Imagine being twenty years old, facing the Lions for the third time in as many weeks, being selected for the All Blacks ahead of Julian Savea, and then justifying your place by scoring two tries…Life is treating this young lad well.
This guy has the world at his feet; lightning speed, brilliant positional play, already accomplished finishing and maturity way beyond his years. What a performance last weekend – he’ll undoubtedly start on Saturday and has one of those talents, you can’t really prepare for in terms of suppressing it.
This guy's been out for 2 months with a broken thumb; wouldn't know it would you? He was as ferocious as ever, made what should have been an unmakeable offload, and had an engine that easily managed the 80 mins at that incredible intensity. In fact, he probably could've gone another 80.
I felt O'Mahony played reasonably well, yet he didn't lead by example. Read did, and the worst thing for the Lions is, he's only going to get better.