Memo to Home Nations: Kiwis can be toppled
It is a toss-up which hemisphere learned the most from this compelling and entertaining series and, in truth, we won’t know for sure until the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
there is no doubt the Lions struck a blow for British and Irish rugby union and the northern hemisphere, and will have seen the way forward in how to beat the All Blacks on a more regular basis.
But the past two weeks will have also been a reality check for New Zealand. In the short term there is not the slightest doubt who will be more pleased. the Lions may have been a little subdued immediately after the final whistle, but when they surfaced yesterday I am sure they will have been glowing with pride at a job well done.
It is a frustration that we will never know quite know how good they might have become, but that is the fascination of the Lions and all we can do is salute Warren Gatland’s team for sharing the series against the World champions.
ALL BLACKS NOT THE FORCE OF OLD
the All Blacks will be angry at themselves for their profligacy and a series of untypical errors which demonstrated that there is still much work to do. With a Rugby Championship just around the corner, Steve hansen and his think tank will stage a huge debriefing.
New Zealand’s main goal now is more World Cup success in Japan 2019 and the one thing they all know is that there has been a huge swing in power form the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere since the 2015 World Cup.
the All Blacks are not clearly not quite as good as we thought they were, but their raw potential and talent is still amazing.
Beauden Barrett is a very fine player but he is not Dan Carter yet and neither is Sam Cane a Richie McCaw. Replacing those two iconic players was never going to be simple. the All Blacks had injuries and suspensions at centre but none of the newcomers is a Conrad Smith or a Ma’a Nonu, the other two big retirees since 2015.
the other thing that struck me is how the pressure got to New Zealand, including red and yellow cards. especially in the final minutes of the last two tests, this suggests a vulnerability we haven’t seen for a while. I have no idea why they didn’t look for a dropped goal in the final three or four minutes to close out Saturday’s game — especially on the last play.
THE LIONS HAVE MADE THEIR MARK
the second test was a Road to Damascus moment when a new generation realised that New Zealand are beatable.
the British and Irish sides can match New Zealand now and we are possibly in for a golden era.
Never again should we discuss the difference between the game in the northern and southern hemispheres — and never again should we allow the four World Cup semifinalists to be from the southern hemisphere, as in 2015. Four of the Six Nations teams in the semifinals should be the goal.
Warren Gatland, Rob howley and Neil Jenkins now have a massive southern hemisphere scalp under their belt and that Welsh trio and all the Welsh players will return home knowing there is no reason why they can’t beat New Zealand. Ditto Andy Farrell and the Irish boys. Farrell is once again showing what a brilliant coach he has become. And it’s the same for Steve Borthwick and the england lads.
england coach eddie Jones faces some interesting calls. Jamie George is now a Lions test veteran but Dylan hartley shows no sign of slowing up; Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes had great tours but George Kruis will be disappointed, with Joe Launchbury no doubt still perplexed by his omission.
Ben te’o demonstrated his quality but does Jones abandon the George Ford-Owen Farrell axis to include te’o at 12? I think not.
Jonathan Joseph had a frustrating tour but looked good to me on the few starts he did get. elliot Daly might look like a centre but he excelled on the wing in three tests and can clearly do a great job there for england as well.
Kyle Sinckler was a livewire, Dan Cole combined the good and the not so good. Are we nearing a changing of the guard there? Lots of great decisions for Jones in the autumn, which any coach would love to have.
For the Lions generally it was a confirmation of their importance and banished ridiculous talk of their future. But things must change. the clubs need to start co- operating to ensure more preparation time and this talk of shortening the tours must stop. A 10-game tour is the minimum but the Lions must also start listening to those who pay players’ wages.
I don’t go along with Graham henry’s suggestion that the Lions should occasionally host an incoming tour from the All Blacks. I can see the financial implication but the Lions raison d’etre is as an overseas touring side. take that away and I don’t believe the magic would be the same.
BANISHING MY 2005 DEMONS
SpeNDING time in New Zealand has banished a few demons from 2005. Shaking hands and chatting with tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu for the first time in 12 years after the Brian O’Driscoll spear tackle was, for me, an end to it. Did either of them do it deliberately? Absolutely not. Was it a red card offence? Absolutely yes.
twelve years on it was also startling but gratifying to read a
New Zealand Herald editorial which advised that it is time to acknowledge the wrong which was done to O’Driscoll in 2005 and to advise an apology is long overdue.
Seeing Sony Bill Williams red-carded no doubt changed the course of this Lions tour. Discussions re-emerged that night over the O’Driscoll incident but it has felt good to move on from 2005.
... AND FINALLY, GLEE FOR GATLAND
ON Friday night I bumped into Warren and his wife in a restaurant and enjoyed a quick chat.
I congratulated him on a job brilliantly done, he scarcely missed a beat and did British and Irish rugby union proud. One of the things he said was that he now appreciates why I brought such a big squad down in 2005.
A tour of New Zealand is now impossible without a minimum of 46 fit, available players. You don’t run two teams but the reality is that you must run two match-day squads and that in test week the responsibility for the midweek team has to be handed over to a senior coach. there is just too much else to do and without doubt there should have been another game in the last week of the tour.
For the sake of the Lions, I hope the movers and shakers listen to Warren’s end-of-tour report.
the true value of the tour for the home Nations teams, I hope, will be seen in Japan in 2019, but I feel the Lions may just have poked a hornets’ nest in New Zealand.
there is saying in New Zealand: ‘Go hard or go home’ and we can expect the Kiwis to be going very hard indeed over the next two years. It is up to the home Nations to go even harder.
Facetime: Kieran Read with his son after getting his 100th New Zealand cap