Tourists show their true colours with skill and pace

War­ren Gat­land’s men lost the game but won a lot of ad­mir­ers at Eden Park.

Sunday Star-Times - - SPORT -

OPINION: So where on earth has War­ren Gat­land been hid­ing this Lions’ side?

You know the team I’m talk­ing about. The one that didn’t so much win the Satur­day games, as bore their op­po­si­tion into sub­mis­sion.

The play­ers who wore the red jer­seys at Eden Park were there to play the sort of rugby that harked back to the misty past, right back to 1959, when Kiwi kids wor­shipped run­ners like Lions wings Tony O’Reilly and Peter Jack­son. Look them up, un­like the wings in the feted ‘71 Lions they scored tries in test matches.

Of course the Lions didn’t win. In fact they got a hid­ing. When you live by the score­board, and the Lions have been at pains to point out they do, they must have felt sick to the stom­ach at what they saw last night.

They have good play­ers, but they don’t have a ge­nius player, like Beau­den Bar­rett, and while Conor Mur­ray is a ter­rific half­back, he doesn’t clear the ball as quickly or as cleanly as Aaron Smith does.

But what they did do was make this se­ries sud­denly look po­ten­tially ex­cit­ing. Be­cause, now they know for a fact they aren’t strong enough in the for­wards to bat­ter their way to vic­tory, they must surely seize on the prom­ise their backs showed to have any chance of a test win, or even to keep the score close, next weekend.

To re­vert to type will con­sign them to his­tory as be­ing as me­diocre as the dis­mal out­fit who failed so badly in 2005.

Be­fore this Eden Park test the game last night wasn’t ex­actly seen as light ver­sus dark, or good ver­sus evil, but it did prom­ise to gen­uinely ex­pose the dif­fer­ence be­tween the styles of rugby played in Bri­tain and in New Zealand.

On this tour it had been seen as a gulf, be­tween ad­ven­ture and stolid grind, that moved even a former Lion to text leg­endary All Black Mur­ray Mexted this week, and say that gulf has never been so wide.

So where have the Lions been hid­ing the skills and dar­ing that al­most yielded a try to El­liot Da­ley in the first few min­utes, and a brilliant, al­most length of the field try for Sean O’Brien in the 35th?

It had seemed, watch­ing the last two Satur­day games, that in th­ese Lions the at­tack­ing gene had been ex­tin­guished. It turned out, for the high speed, dar­ing mo­ments from when Liam Wil­liams broke inside his own 22 un­til, four passes later, O’Brien was plung­ing over for five points, it was only un­der heavy dis­guise.

Was this the Lions team wryly de­scribed by a Bri­tish ra­dio com­men­ta­tor dur­ing the day as ‘‘very good from one to 10’’, but not so flash in the higher num­bers?

Play­ers like Da­ley and An­thony Wat­son were sud­denly dodg­ing, dart­ing, and leav­ing All Blacks grasp­ing at air.

You would have thought be­fore kick-off, the 2017 Lions would tap a penalty from which they might get an easy three points at about the same time Don­ald Trump stops us­ing hair spray, and the RNZAF uses pigs for fly­ing dis­plays at air shows.

And then, four min­utes into the sec­ond half, that’s ex­actly what they did. Thank­fully for Kiwi fans the All Blacks weren’t so stunned they couldn’t de­fend the maul, but the de­ci­sion in it­self was a warn­ing the Lions were play­ing from a brand new play­book.

See­ing the ball moved at speed by the men in red was a shock, al­though at other times they re­verted to type, for­wards like Alun Wyn Jones and Mako Vu­nipola al­most per­fectly il­lus­trat­ing the mean­ing of the word ‘‘lum­ber­ing.’’

On the other hand the try Codie Tay­lor scored in the 17th minute was a per­fect ex­am­ple of the sort of rugby the cur­rent All Blacks, when on song, can seem­ingly sum­mon at will.

The All Blacks had a gift three points, when ref­eree Jaco Peyper awarded them a penalty inside the Lions’ 22.

But Aaron Smith tapped the ball, and the All Blacks ran it un­til a dumb­founded Lions’ de­fence saw a hooker, Tay­lor, pluck the ball al­most off the top of his boots and score the try.

Ul­ti­mately the All Blacks showed why they’re in a small group of one on top of the world.

When the game counted they had the mea­sure of the Lions in al­most ev­ery depart­ment.

Good enough at scrum time to do a de­mo­li­tion job that would ul­ti­mately lead to one of two ter­rific tries for the hugely promis­ing Rieko Ioane, at least as good in the dark arts of the break­down as the Lions, and shrewd enough at the li­ne­out to steal a Lions’ throw on the five me­tre line in the last 10 min­utes.

The Lions will lose this se­ries 3-0, but they have the op­por­tu­nity to be gal­lant, even thrilling, losers.


All Blacks hooker Codie Tay­lor dives over for the first try of the test last night.

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