This was a test that the men based north of the equator fell well short of in almost every facet of the game, apart from the line-out.
I hope this doesn’t come across as being disingenuous and non-patriotic, but when I saw Conor Murray launch yet another up and under with the Lions very first bit of possession, my allegiance switched from red to black. Murray’s box-kicking attributes are now so predictable that even my mother would be able to devise a strategy to deal with them, never mind the most dangerous running team in the world.
The only way this Lions side were going to have any hope in the game was if they elected to hold on to the ball and challenge their opponents with an open running policy that carried with it a certain amount of risk taking. No one can deny that Peter O’Mahony’s team had moments of brilliance, but their inability to take advantage and seize the moment extinguished any chance they had.
Apart from Sean O’Brien’s try which derived from Liam Williams decision to step outside the box of conformity, the Lions showed us nothing different or special.
It was suggested that in the build up to this game that the All Blacks would not be able to deal with the Lions’ physicality and power, but rugby players are not made in a gym and this is something all our academies, schools and underage policy makers must take note of.
A couple of weeks ago the New Zealand U20s were crowned World Cup Champions when they absolutely annihilated England 64-17. The one telling factor that shone brightest throughout the entirety of this tournament was the gulf in skill between the winners and all the rest. Pound for pound all the competing countries were in great physical shape, but when it came to something as simple as making or taking a pass, they fell flat on their faces, especially when doing it under duress.
FYI, Ireland came ninth.
Warren Gatland has come in for some serious criticism ever since he selected his touring party. I do think this is a little bit unfair, but I am disappointed by the amount of trash talk he is feeding the media. Native to New Zealand, Gatland is a man who is someone that is not afraid to live or die by the sword, but I would have expected more common sense from him when it comes to rattling cages.
You simply do not arrive at someone’s doorstep and start telling them how to run their house, especially when it’s full of All Blacks.
For me it is clear that Gatland is petrified. You must remember this is the man who got his Irish players to apply fake tan on a tour of South Africa in order to make them look healthier. Guess what? It didn’t really work and we got hammered.
I detest looking back at lost games in order to forage for positives, but in this case it’s vital that the management take a long hard look at how they are instructing their key decision makers and re-evaluate the amount of possession they are kicking away.
This New Zealand side had no weaknesses on Saturday apart from an unfamiliar line-out, which will be fixed by next weekend. The only time Gatland’s players looked as if they could trouble the All Blacks was when they kept the ball in hand.
I would like to think that Johnny Sexton will get the nod for the next test because Owen Farrell did nothing apart from tackle well. The Leinster man will at least stand flatter and make a break if he feels it is on, because that is how he plays every week with Leinster.
Gatland will also have to look at the make-up of his backrow trio because, as an entity, it did not work well. Sean O’Brien was thriving in the physical exchanges, but O’Mahony and Taulope Faleteu were outplayed by their opposite numbers.
O’Mahony just wasn’t as destructive as normal and even though his line-out capabilities are an invaluable asset, as a number six you have to offer more around the park. Considering Gatland’s track record and loyalty to the Welsh players, O’Mahony might well go from captain to substitute.
Brodie Retallick also edged Alun Wyn Jones in the second row and Owen Franks got the better of Mako Vunipola up front. Simply speaking, the Lions lost one too many individual battles, and when that happens to a side of New Zealand’s calibre, there’s not much you can do other than hold your hands up and admit they were the better side.
This New Zealand team will only get better from here on in and their incredible telepathic ball distribution skills will grow as their time together increases.
Gatland will probably have another swipe at his fellow coach and continue to put his players on a false pedestal, but this tour is now entering a period where unselected players will need to have their egos massaged and the mid-week team will need to remain as loyal as those who were selected for last Saturday’s game.
I think New Zealand have another two gears to shift through if required and their margin of victory will increase over the next fortnight. They are just too good at everything they do and they have too many quality players to choose from.