War­ren­ball just isn’t go­ing to work against op­po­si­tion this good

Omit­ting both Rin­grose and Car­bery will haunt Gat­land when All Blacks’ pace and guile rout Lions

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY - NEIL FRAN­CIS

IHAD the plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to Se­na­tor Ge­orge Mitchell at a bash in the Na­tional Gallery in Dublin on Wed­nes­day night. One of the points he fo­cused on was ex­pec­ta­tion. He used the anal­ogy of the wed­ding night of El­iz­a­beth Taylor and her sixth hus­band. The groom would al­most as­suredly know what to do; the dif­fi­culty would be in mak­ing it in­ter­est­ing or ex­cit­ing. The Lions travel to New Zealand in 27 days; at least try and make it in­ter­est­ing Wazza!

It is easy to be pes­simistic. You look at the his­tory and you look at the odds that are stacked against the Lions and you say yes, 3-0 to the home side. De­pend­ing on what strength the Su­per Rugby fran­chises are al­lowed to pick, the Lions could eas­ily lose six games on this tour and maybe more be­cause the ‘weaker’ pro­vin­cial sides like the Otago High­landers and Auck­land Blues might not have too many All Blacks to take out of their ros­ters. They will also be play­ing the Lions’ weaker mid-week teams. That is go­ing to be dif­fi­cult.

You hear play­ers and coaches say ahead of games against the likes of Tre­viso, “there are no easy games in Sta­dio Monigo”. The prob­lem with asi­nine state­ments like that is that when you go on a tour where there are gen­uinely no easy games, it sounds mean­ing­less. A Tues­day night in Dunedin’s House of Pain against a side that re­ally wants to kill you, that is as hard as it gets … that is un­til you meet the Cru­saders … be­fore you meet the Maoris … be­fore the Test se­ries.

Lazy sod that I am, I am go­ing to write my Lions re­view now and take most of July off be­cause we will be scratch­ing our heads just like we did in 1983, 1993 and 2005. We have picked a pretty de­cent squad which is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of what has taken place over the last three or four years. We will try hard and we will think out some of the an­gles, but the truth is we only have a small num­ber of play­ers who can play like New Zealand’s play­ers. There aren’t enough of them and we haven’t both­ered to pick any of them.

Last week the Cape Storm­ers, who are South Africa’s best and in-form Su­per Rugby fran­chise, went to New Zealand to play the Can­ter­bury Cru­saders. The Storm­ers had a re­ally strong team out, with huge men like Eben Etze­beth and Pi­eter-Steph du Toit in their pack. A very clever side, of­fen­sively re­plete and de­fen­sively sure, they are in all com­pany a se­ri­ous propo­si­tion.

The Cru­saders put 57 points on them in a breath-tak­ing dis­play of pass­ing that was so pure that the com­pre­hen­sive na­ture of that de­feat didn’t ac­tu­ally cause the vis­i­tors much phys­i­cal pain. They sim­ply couldn’t catch them.

The Storm­ers were in town for pain, big hits, ap­pli­ca­tion and en­deav­our and plenty of con­tact. I would guess quite a few of them would have ap­plauded the Cru­saders’ brio if they hadn’t been so ashamed of the way they were out­played. The Storm­ers didn’t miss that many tack­les and their pro­fes­sion­al­ism en­sured that they tried to the end.

God help us they could just as eas­ily have been wear­ing red jer­seys. The Storm­ers play ‘War­ren­ball’. They play ex­actly like the Lions will play.

On the same week­end, the Welling­ton Hur­ri­canes played the Brumbies, who are Aus­tralia’s most com­pet­i­tive fran­chise. The Brumbies, who at that stage had the best de­fen­sive record in the whole com­pe­ti­tion, had 56 points put on them. Beau­den Bar­rett was the im­pre­sario on the night. Both New Zealand teams scored eight tries against their hap­less op­po­nents. We know it’s only Su­per Rugby but how would Sara­cens with six Lions or Le­in­ster with five Lions do against th­ese sides?

We watch th­ese matches from afar on our screens and we should know at this stage that ten-minute high­light reels can give an in­ac­cu­rate de­pic­tion of how a game re­ally went. You can’t pick up trends or weak­nesses or how a team built up to a try or how they con­sis­tently ap­plied pres­sure.

So I have been watch­ing the full 80 min­utes of th­ese games and they are scary. Scary be­cause in the Storm­ers game the South Africans gave a rea­son­ably good ac­count of them­selves and yet there was noth­ing they could do.

The ex­cel­lence of the New Zealand play­ers’ pass­ing is a won­der to be­hold. Tim­ing and flu­ency is one thing we have learned to ex­pect from them — sym­pa­thy of the pass; soft hands de­liv­er­ing; soft hands re­ceiv­ing. And they can all pass ac­cu­rately at full speed.

One fea­ture that was con­sis­tent was the spec­u­la­tive cut-out pass, and by cut-out I mean 30 me­tres. Then it dawned on me that they are only spec­u­la­tive if there is a de­gree of risk that they won’t make it to the in­tended re­ceiver. It be­came clear that all of th­ese passes were so pre­cise that there was prac­ti­cally no ball on the floor or spilled. When you be­come so well versed and so pre­cise, you can pretty much try any­thing.

Then I started ask­ing ques­tions. Who are th­ese small, light, quick backs with daz­zling hands and electra-glide pace? I had never heard of Ge­orge Bridge or Vince Aso ei­ther.

Dan Carter’s per­for­mance against the 2005 Lions still lingers in the mem­ory. The im­pe­ri­ous na­ture of Beau­den Bar­rett’s cur­rent dis­plays prompt me to think that he will su­per­sede Carter’s majesty. Bar­rett’s prime char­ac­ter­is­tic is his au­dac­ity. He sees plays that no north­ern hemi­sphere player can imag­ine and, my friends, this is what we will all be talk­ing about on the Mon­day after the third Test.

Small, light, lithe, quick backs who can pass bet­ter than any­thing we can do. Their foot­work and their pace will be too much.

Look at the re­cent Cham­pi­ons Cup semi-fi­nals and look at who stood out. Garry Rin­grose and his quick feet and his change of gears; Joey Car­bery and his im­mac­u­late pass­ing and his abil­ity to see a gap and the ex­tra half-me­tre more of pace than the Scott Sped­dings of this world who was his im­me­di­ate op­po­nent; the lithe but quick­sil­ver David Stret­tle, who caused trou­ble with his pace and speed of mind — small but re­ally dan­ger­ous; the diminu­tive Nick Aben­danon, quick, skil­ful and a real hand­ful; An­drew Con­way, one of the quick­est backs in Ire­land, a re­ally dan­ger­ous at­tacker and deadly fin­isher re­duced to chas­ing very poorly ex­e­cuted box-kicks.

Le­in­ster at least play a pass­ing game and know how to mine the po­ten­tial of their speedy backs.

Look at what Wazza has picked in his mid-field — Ben Te’o was a dis­grace­ful se­lec­tion. A basher with an off-load: is that a one-trick or two-trick pony? Jonathan Davies played for Wales in all three Tests last sum­mer in New Zealand and just wasn’t a fac­tor — a slow pony. Jonathan Joseph? A show pony!

Who knows what Wazza will go with in his mid­field or what type of game he will ask them to play, but big and phys­i­cal isn’t go­ing to work.

New Zealand have play­ers of wit and width who are go­ing to mes­merise us and our un­for­tu­nate and much-hyped com­pos­ite team. Our ten-year-olds might learn from this sum­mer, but only if we keep out of gyms and teach them or get some Ki­wis to teach them how to pass prop­erly.

It’s al­right to be Go­liath but al­ways act like David.

New Zealand have small, light, lithe, quick backs who pass bet­ter than any­thing we can do

Garry Rin­grose stood out last week­end with his quick feet, but has been left out of the Lions squad

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