Nervy, hesitant, anxious…just a few words to sum up the Lions’ performance against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians on Saturday. It was a performance, which can be justified to an extent due to squad’s recent arrival in New Zealand, was nevertheless, disappointing all the same.
There is a lot of pressure on Warren Gatland’s side, even before the narrow 13-7 victory in Whangarei but one would hope that the media scrutiny which this side has received in recent days will act as a catalyst for a more physically dominant and passionate performance against the Auckland Blues.
With eight All Blacks in Tana Umaga’s side for the clash at Eden Park, the Lions will certainly need to provide that if they hope to secure their second victory of this Tour. One would have hoped, that the midfield pairing of Ben Te’o and Jonathan Joseph would have led to a more assured defence performance on Saturday. Although Te’o doesn’t start for England, Owen Farrell commands the 12 shirt, his familiarity with Joseph perhaps should have led to a more consistent defensive performance.
Of course, a team’s defence doesn’t completely rely on the midfield partnership, but it is a major component all the same. Irish teammates, Robbie Henshaw and Jared Payne will line out for the Lions in midfield against the Blues on Wednesday and they should bring a level of calm and confidence to this Lions backline.
Henshaw and Payne have been the cornerstone of Ireland’s impressive performances over the past number of seasons. With Payne in particular, the Tauranga-born 31-year-old brings an incredible level of communication and assuredness to the defensive performance of any team he lines out for – be it for Ulster or Ireland and now, hopefully, the Lions.
Irish players and management have repeatedly praised Payne in public for his abilities in defence and it’s not only his communication and ability to read a situation – but he is an excellent tackler who can put in big hits on players much larger than him.
Henshaw and Payne will have Rhys Webb and Dan Biggar playing inside them on Wednesday. The Welsh duo are physical players themselves, so this will hopefully negate the influences of Sonny Bill Williams and co. who undoubtedly are going to pose a major threat to Warren Gatland’s side.
The midfield options which Gatland and his staff have at their disposal are plentiful but with Joseph underperforming on Saturday, this is a great opportunity for Payne to prove why eyebrows should not have been raised when he was selected for the squad back on April 19.
[gravityform id=”1″ title=”true” description=”true”]