The British and Irish Lions finally faced off against the mighty All Blacks on Saturday in their first of three Tests. With expectation sky high among the home and touring fans, two styles collided.
the Test started at a break-neck pace, with the Lions almost going over within the first two minutes. Only a scrambling All Blacks defence kept Elliot Daly off the scoresheet.
Both sides came to play and the home side slowly asserted their irresistible attacking style on the Lions. Possession and pressure led to a typical try for Cody Taylor on 18 minutes.
Things were beginning to look ominous for the visitors as the All Blacks began to dominate the possession and territory statistics.
As the first half wore on, however, the Lions began to click and make some inroads into All Blacks territory. Then, on 35 minutes, Liam Williams showed everyone why Warren Gatland named him in place of Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.
Skinning some of the best in the business, he ran from deep inside his own 22-metre line, linking up with Elliot Daly and Jonathan Davies, before Sean O’Brien was released to claim the spoils.
Despite Owen Farrell missing the conversion, the two sides went into half-time only five points apart, with both sides having much to consider ahead of the second half.
The Lions began the second stanza with a massive statement, two huge ‘length of the field’ attacks that suggested we could be in for some champagne rugby. However, with nothing to show for the effort, the All Blacks gradually asserted themselves once more and ultimately strangled the Lions out of the game.
The 30 – 15 scoreline was a sobering conclusion for the Lions, who despite showing moments of absolute brilliance, were unable to sustain momentum in the manner that the home side could do with apparent ease.
Now as Warren Gatland takes stock of the first Test defeat, he must decide how he wants to mix things up ahead of the second Test next weekend. Looking at who did well and who could have done better will certainly be the first place he will look.
Here is where he might start.
First the Winners
The attacking runs of Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson provided the Lions with a threat that for much of the first 50 minutes was more than the All Blacks seemed capable of containing.
All three justified their position in the starting XV on Saturday, with Williams in particular showing he is a real danger man for the Lions.
The Wales No.8 was a menace in the breakdown, always there to pressure the All Blacks, always trying to disrupt and steal the ball. In attack, Faletau was keen to go forward and during the first half in particular, he was rewarded for his efforts with yards and breaks.
On his performance in the first Test, it will likely be difficult for CJ Stander to battle his way into the starting XV for the second test.
Davies, along with the dynamic back line, was imperious in attack, constantly breaking the All Blacks defensive line and making huge gains. His link up with Williams and Daly was instrumental for the Lions incredible first half try, where the backs worked seamlessly before releasing Sean O’Brien through for the five points.
While there were many who played well, others will certainly come under real pressure for their starting spot in a weeks time.
Those who could lose out include,
Alun Wyn Jones
The veteran Wales lock was a surprise inclusion in the XV ahead of Maro Itoje and while he gave his all, as always, he looked gassed early on and far less dynamic than Maro Itoje, who replaced Jones after 47 minutes.
With Itoje impressing with his tackling and pressure defence in the second half, there would be no surprises if Jones is replaced by the English man for the second Test.
Like Jones, Furlong was solid and worked himself to a standstill for the 58 minutes he was on the field. Solid in defence and ambition in attack, the Irishman was eager throughout.
Where he may lose out next week is due to the dynamic display by his replacement Kyle Sinckler, who enjoyed an eye-catching line break inside the final ten minutes.
It all comes down to the scrum. With Furlong involved, the set piece was solid. When the front row was changed out in the second period, the scrum crumbled to the All Blacks pressure.
Murray had a solid game, kicking imperiously as ever, asking the question of the All Blacks defence. Unfortunately, the home side was assured in the air and won the majority of the high ball contests.
The introduction of Rhys Webb late in the second half offered the Lions a new option, with the Welshman’s propensity to the pick-and-go being rewarded with a late try for the visitors.
While most of the Lions performed well, where some will likely lose out in the second Test is the need to change tactics. Luckily Gatland has a group of players that offer different options and it must be assumed that he will be exploring these next weekend.
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