Reductive

Ha!  What was our headline again?  ‘Get Quick Ball. Use Quick Ball. Repeat’, was it?  Joke’s on us.  ‘Hoof ball. Chase ball. Repeat’ would be more like it.  What looked, optimistially, to be a team selection to move the point of attack in fact turned out to be one sent on to the pitch to chase high balls.  It was puke rugby and the Lions deserved to lose.

Warren Gatland stands to be castigated for exceptionally reductive, negative tactics in a second test which was there for the taking against a nervous, mistake-ridden Australia.  But by relying on chasing (admittedly pretty accurate) garryowens and winning (admittedly superbly contested) turnovers on the deck, and refusing to try and play rugby with ball in hand, the Lions found themselves hoping to defend their way to victory.  Eventually the dam burst.  The Lions can point to how close they were to a series win, but the truth is that had Leali’ifano been kicking last week the series would be over.  Sure, Australia played as if they had a rifle pointed at their feet and their finger on the trigger for most of the game, intent as they were to throw the ball forward, but eventually the passes stuck, the fly-half found a running angle, and they came up with the winning score.

The most damning statistic in the ESPNscrum.com horror-show was that Johnny Sexton passed the ball ten times in the match (second most damning statistic: 15 of 20 Lions had more tackles than metres carried).  The Lions have a huge advantage at fly-half, where Europe’s finest is facing off against a player who is unfamiliar with the requirements of the position at test level. Instead of trying to press home that advantage, they have him performing a role that his deputy, the obviously inferior Owen Farrell, could easily manage.  What are they thinking?

Gatland can argue that the intention was not to reduce the gameplan to kicky-kick, and that the lack of go-forward ball presented to the halves necessitated that they adopt a conservative approach.  Fair enough, but with the team he put out, is it any wonder?  It was pretty obvious that with the backrow and centres selected, the Lions were going to struggle to get over the gainline.  Gatland could have picked any or all of Sean O’Brien, Toby Faletau or Manu Tuilagi but declined on all three counts.  The media are only too keen to paint Dr. Roberts as a panacea to all their woes, but that overlooks the fact that there were alternatives in place to compensate, and also that Roberts hasn’t really played very well at all since Hong Kong.  He’s a fine player, but doesn’t have a magic wand (he has started 5 games against Australia and lost 4) . Also, the sight of Leigh Halfpenny fielding a garryowen in some space with men outside, then promptly booting it into orbit, doesn’t quite speak to a ball-in-hand gameplan.

Similarly, the strife at scrum time was only too predictable, because Vunipola is so poor in the set piece.  The medics will be working hard to get Alex Corbisiero out this week, and how they need him.  The lineout was a showcase of how muddled the thinking has got; when they’d Croft in the team last week, they threw to the front all day.  When they didn’t they went for the tail.  Confused?  You’re not the only one.

The real clanger of a performance came from Ben Youngs, who was at his arm-flapping, faffing-about worst, admittedly behind a retreating pack.  Conor Murray hugely improved the picture when he came on and is better able to control the game when on the back foot.  Are we about to see Warren Gatland go through his entire roll-call of scrum halves over the three test matches, and start Murray in the decider?  And is he about to try and rebalance his backrow once again (notwithstanding that he must replace Warburton due to injury)?  If he does, it will be symptomatic of a failure in selection, an inability to identify the form players.

The real disappointment is that in the warm-up games, the Lions at least appeared determined to play some rugby.  But any aspiration to creativity has disappeared once the test matches have begun.  It looks like the Lions have been suckered into the thinking that ‘winning’ rugby is somehow synonymous with strangling the life out of games.

It makes you despair for the future of the Lions.  We are told that this is the utmost, the pinnacle of the game, but the test matches have been, on the whole, poor to watch, and Lions have been boring.  The Aussies are in pole position to finish off the series in Sydney; they have the momentum and have shaken off their place-kicking hoodoo.   If the Lions don’t win this series, when are they going to win one?  But even worse, if they go down having barely tried to attack Australia, it would beg the question, what is the point?

Geech’s 2009 Lions won many friends because of the enterprise they showed.  They lost, but they ran one of the great teams of the professional era mighty close, were distinctly unlucky and went down swinging playing some great stuff in an era where great stuff was few and far between; 2009 was the year of the ELVs, remember.  In doing so, they put the soul back into a franchise that had suffered huge damage in 2005.  If Gatland’s team perform in Sydney as they did on Saturday, they will have undone that work. The next time we see them, they’ll be going to New Zealand.  Good luck with that one.

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46 Comments

  1. conorphilpott95

     /  July 1, 2013

    There were several instances I noted where the wrong option was taken or there was a moment where you realised what Gatland’s gameplan and philosophy was. Johnny spurned a 6 on 3 overlap to take the ball on himself! A lot of that is on Sexton, but probably shows you how Gatland is trying to play.

    Another moment, Halfpenny gets some space from a kick, probably the first time he does all game. he could try a good 20m+ pass to Bowe which would be risky, but the poor chase from Oz, means the defensive line has gaps to exploit, if he ran it he would have gained yards, instead he boots it down the field incredibly frustrating.

    I’m doing a video analysis spot for Balls.ie today, other angry moments will be noted!

  2. Great post, I’d agree with all of that. Terrible thing to see Johnny and Youngs hoofing away non-stop – why insist on giving the ball to the other team like this? It’d be interesting to see statistics of the kick and chase from the game – how many times did the Lions get the ball back again when they kicked it? When I was in junior school playing rugby, our trainer didn’t let us kick the ball ever. If I were training the Lions I would have the same rule. Well ok, maybe let them kick in their own 22. The talked about tactic of running round the Wallabies was obviously not on the menu and the lack of punch up the middle was noticeable. You can’t win a test against the Aussies playing like that. There has to be big changes for the last test; I’d definitely play SOB and Tuilagi next Saturday and let Johnny do what Johnny does best. And if they don’t let him do it, well hell, he should break the rules and go ahead and do it anyway. I’d prefer the Lions to try and play some rugby and lose, then go out and do that again.

  3. Great point in the 4th paragraph. Whatever you think about Gatland’s game plan, his selection can definitely be questioned. Surely the likes of Faletau, Tuilagi and O’Brien are exactly the kind of ball carriers his game plan needs to succeed.

  4. Jack

     /  July 1, 2013

    Glad to read a sensible assessment of the game. The Sky-Hype gets more cringe-inducing and hysterical in inverse proportion to the quality of the games.
    The Lions clearly flagged their lack of coherence and self-belief early on when they went for posts having had two mauls pulled down and with the Aussies on a warning. The statistician driven “take your points” mentality is killing the game IMO.

  5. Peat

     /  July 1, 2013

    My pet theory says that game went to hell for the Lions due to a complete inability to write collisions – couldn’t get over the gainline, couldn’t get the ball out of the ruck quickly, couldn’t put the Aussie attack on the back foot and stop that magnificently annoying dwarf of theirs running the show. Backline? Didn’t cover themselves in glory, but with legitimate grounds for complaint. That’s what I’d like to see corrected, I suspect the backline might look after themselves at that point – as they did in the first test to an extent. If O’Brien does not start the third test, Gatland and friends are clinically insane.

    As for the lineout – Croft very regularly jumps at the front for England as a safety throw sans pareil. He’s not just a back pod jumper. He also grabs the opposition’s attention; if POC and Croft are at the back of the line-out, they probably don’t have their best guys marking the front. So with Croft, short safety ball is really easy. Without Croft, not so easy. Parling needed to keep it moving about and couldn’t rely on simply beating them at the front. That’s how I see it. Although god knows why he want to the back at the crucial moment, complete brainfade, the Lions seems incapable of executing that.

    I enjoyed the first test. The second was tense, but I can’t imagine re-watching it. Here’s hoping the coaches and players are sharper four years down the line, or we’ll get humiliated.

  6. Good article as usual lads, completely agree with your points. I had, like most, thought Gatland was plumbing for around rather than through based on his selections.

    I’ve found these tests to be incredibly frustrating, Murray Kinsella makes a great point in his own blog about having a rigid gameplan as much by necessity than anything else due to such little preparation time.

    But, surely you can have a rigid gameplan that still says “If it’s on, it’s on”. The Lions has some of the most skillful, fastest and strongest players ever seen in the Northern Hemisphere. TRUST THEM!!

    I thought Warburton stepped up and had a fantastic game, but the fact of the matter is SOB is the most in form flanker in the squad and should have played in the tests. Similarly Murray has to start now – Youngs is good, but without the ballast in the forwards he’s always going to look like what he is… a front foot scrum half luxury.

    I realise that if the Lions win on Saturday the performances will largely be forgotten but surely, even in the mass hype Sky world we’re living in, the thought of the Lions being ambassadors for the best brand of rugby in the UK and Ireland should mean something???

  7. Poor decision making at line-out has infuriated me in this tour. Nearly every time when we’ve had a lineout near the Aussie 5m line where we could just win the ball at the front and maul it over, we’ve gone for a long ball which is massively telegraphed to the Aussies. Hibbard didn’t exactly impress me when he came on (although he and Dan Cole did show what they could do in the scrum compared to the mauling they got last week), and despite having the yips, I reckon Rory might be in with a shout to make the bench for his work in the loose and turnover abilities (although that could just be my hulk-tinted glasses talking).

    You can tell though that Gatland and Howley just aren’t used to having a dynamic centre partnership like Davies/BOD. The few times that Jonny did pass you saw Davies take the ball into contact, with Drico straight in behind to take the offload that never came, which is disappointing because the backline moves that we did try to pull off looked so static you knew we were going to go backwards.

    I haven’t rewatched the match, but I was surprised at how the Aussies only got pinged once for obstructing Tommy from contesting high balls, they seemed to be marking him out of the contest each and every time.

    In terms of scrum half, I didn’t think Youngs was too bad considering the ball he was given, and he was a damn sight better than Phillips, but you’re probably right to think Murray will start, he and Sexton have really hit it off this season and I think it pays to have more proven combinations for the third Test.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  July 1, 2013

      I’d hardly call Davies “Dynamic”, rather Wales’s only 13, the guy was middling to average for Wales for 90% of the tests he has played in,anonymous at club level, ordinary passer, zero footwork and not really that physical or big to mask his failings. The only reason he is touring is because he is Welsh.Massively overrated, and his defensive blunder for AAC’s try should have cost him his place in the 23, Tuilagi or Roberts to start.

      As for Murray and Sexton “hitting it off” when was that? 40 mins against Wales and a game against a flogged Pumas team? Murray and Sexton have never remotely resembled a “combination” for the majority of their enforced partnership.. I’d persist with Youngs and if Philips is fit put him on the bench..

      • Amiga500

         /  July 1, 2013

        I’m not a Conor Murray fan. But, to be fair to the man, he is improving.

        His box kicking is much better than it was and he offered a degree of control that Youngs is seemingly incapable of imposing.

        A faster service and he will be getting there. But given how pedestrian Mike Phillips is – and how erratic Ben Youngs is – I’m about to say something I can barely believe – I would pick Murray for the final test.

  8. Buzz

     /  July 1, 2013

    I think the way the game went shows that Gatland doesn’t learn anything from defeat – I’m talking about the many times his Wales side has lost to the Aussies. The same negative tactics again and again. Even worse, he seems to have no idea which combinations work or don’t work and who his scrum-half should be.

    Solid though Halfpenny has been, is it just me that thinks he presents absolutely no counter attacking threat whatsoever? It’s a shame that injury prevented Ben Foden having any chance of making the Lions’ squad as he would have been the man for the job. Halfpenny’s kicking has been good but Sexton is no worse IMHO.

    Likewise, taking only one inside centre has proved a folly.

    The only good thing about Saturday was I was watching the game down the pub and therefore couldn’t hear the idiotic cheerleading of Miles Harrison or the unintelligent carping of Fatty Barnes.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  July 1, 2013

      Finally someone who sees Halfpenny for what he is, a boot. He only starts over Lee Byrne as no one else in the Wales squad is as good a kicker. Massively overrated player, Christian Cullen he is not.

      • Lop12

         /  July 2, 2013

        Leigh, 12 tries in 40 odd caps for Wales, Halfpenny? He may be overrated, but he is far more than just a boot to be fair.

  9. RDS Curva Nord

     /  July 1, 2013

    Good article mate, and good point MK. Warrenball is reductive – and predictable. Aus abandoned the breakdown for half the match and let the lions commit 3 or 4; and lions would find a gold wall out wide without the tools to smash it.
    Emperor Lydiate has no clothes. He can do something expected of every back row player. And nothing else. He has managed 33 metres with the ball…in the entire tour! He doesn’t run, he doesn’t link; he doesn’t commit penalties…cos he doesn’t compete! He’s not even a line out threat. Gattys insistence on this guy smacks of hubris…

  10. Leinsterlion

     /  July 1, 2013

    Gatland found out again down South would be my take on the tour so far. Usual suspects, Warburton North, AWJ, Jones aside, no Welshman has put their head above the parapet and justified Gattys faith in their selection.
    As for the English flops, Rowntrees insidious influence strikes again. Vunipola is muck, cant scrum against Oz props? Send him home pronto. Cole is hardly a world beater either, Julian White needs to be hauled off his farm and put back into action(only half joking). Parling makes tackles, ordinary in the lineout and scrum(why was Hamilton not brought?)… Croft, well he’s still the same rubbish player he was before the tour and has done nothing to change my mind. Show pony, a crocked Elsom would destroy that clown, shouldnt be anywhere near a Lions tour.
    The Irish contingent haven’t let the side down(although Best hasnt thrown in a test, yet), but they haven’t set the world alight. Sexton and Drico have been content to buy into Gattys anti rugby vision and they have suffered for it, great players reduced to playing Munster esque rubbish with none of the lineout operators to make it work. Heaslip is woefully misused(again), SOB must have taken a dump in Gattys slippers, Bowe is “used” as kick chaser…..

    In summary, we have a load of ordinary players(some injury enforced, true) surrounding perhaps 7 or 8 really good Welsh,English and Irish players coached by the meathead trust of Farrell and Rowntree playing a nihilistic version of Gatty ball, we are doing well to be at one-all. Too many bad players on this tour, too many English in the coaching and selection room and no 12 to make Gatty ball work. A recipe for disaster.

    • Leinsterlion

       /  July 1, 2013

      Forgot about POC, Irelands/Lions player of the tournament, hands down

    • …taken a dump in Gatty’s slippers… !!! love it…
      Your second last sentence sums it all up pretty well I think.

    • Saul Evans

       /  July 1, 2013

      Jesus – you need to watch your blood pressure :).
      Gatland was not even on Wales’ tour to Australia last year in fairness to him.

      The Lions can still take the series this weekend if Gatland get’s his selection’s right – and contrary to your rant above that would mean more Welsh players who can execute his game plan.

      Back 3:
      Halfpenny
      Bowe
      North

      Centres:
      JD2 – playing out of position with a mis-firing BOD is never going to make you look good but he’s been the best centre on the tour. Does Gatland have the balls to drop BOD? Not going to be popular sentiment on this blog – but it’s the truth as I see it.
      Tuilagi/Roberts: Either basher can do the job here, but Roberts edges this on his familiarity with JD2 if fit.

      Half-backs:
      Sexton: Was poor on the weekend but still the best option
      Philips: Was awful in the first test but a shoe-in if his knee is still situated somewhere in the proximity of his leg. A gamble but has big game quality the other two just don’t.

      Front Row:
      Corbs – the Lions strategy is predicated on beating up the Aussies up front and this is a no brainer. Establishing that platform has to be the main focus in the forwards this weekend (Grant if not fit)
      Hibbard – similar to the above Hibbard offers the extra power to get dominance in the scrum – though Youngs has done ok elsewhere he really struggled without Corbs.
      Adam Jones.

      Second Row
      Alun-Wyn Jones (Captain)
      Evans – edges Grey on scrum power and familiarity with Hibbard and Alun-Wyn for lineouts

      Back Row: the one area where the Lions were excellent on the weekend was the breakdown – where the double act of Lydiate and Warburton worked their magic.

      Dan Lydiate: For me was Lions MOM on Saturday – some of the posts here hilarious. The most destructive 6 in world rugby – and that’s their bread and butter. Would also be happy with O’Brien here.
      Tipuric – wouldn’t argue about O’Brian as a 7 either but Tipuric shades the breakdown which is a massive hole with Warburton out.
      Faletau – the most baffling selection for me on this tour – this guys is a monster and has been the best, or second best player in all the games he’s played in. Real grunt and graft to the breakdown as well as taking the ball on.
      Would also have no argument with O’Brien here – his natural position.

      Bench:
      Maka: Would expect more impact in the last 20 mins than Grant
      Youngs
      Cole
      Grey – Parling doesn’t offer any power and his call for a long throw in the lineout at the end was criminal.
      O’Brien – Class player who can play anywhere in the backrow.
      Youngs
      Farrell
      Cuthbert

      • K2

         /  July 1, 2013

        So you are proposing 12 Welsh players? Don’t you think the lions should be aiming for something a little bit more grand than a slightly augmented national side? Sure Wales are current grand slam champions but for me this ruins the excitement of a mixed country touring side.

        • Saul Evans

           /  July 2, 2013

          Once they are out they the are just Lions. Nationality is irrelevant.

          • K2

             /  July 2, 2013

            I don’t agree with you Saul. I’m not saying we should have token players to ensure every country has a representation. However, we need to at least make an effort to integrate the best of British/Irish talent into an test team that in theory would be superior to any of its constituent national teams.

            I see on the posts below that you claim that the green tinted glasses are in full use (regarding BOD). That is probably true but you surely realise that you lean towards the boys from the valleys and it is quite clear from all your posts.

          • moreinhope

             /  July 2, 2013

            Saying that nationality is irrelevant is a little disingenuous. Picking those players because they would provide for the most settled/balanced units is predicated to an extent on them all hailing from the same national team. Is Test rugby so rehearsed and prescriptive in the professional age that only the most well-worn combinations can compete at this level? Possibly. Could a Lions team have emulated England in 2003 and beaten New Zealand on home soil, for example? Probably not.
            There is an argument to say Saul’s combinations might give the Lions the best chance of winning on Saturday but, well, why not just send the best home nations team in the Lions’ stead and be done with it. The super-hero cross over model is what makes the Lions fascinating. Just as comic book readers are drawn in by the prospect of an, uhhh, X-men/Avengers cross over, rugby fans are intrigued by how POC will combine with Alun Wyn Jones or how Philips will complement Sexton etc. If the X men say ‘thanks but no thanks, our combinations are pretty settled’ and take their ball and go home I’m going to tune out. I didn’t watch the Welsh tour of Australia last time round and I most likely won’t watch their next tour. I doubt there is any other team in sport that boasts both the Lions losing record and its enormous following. I agree with K2. We all hope that this anachronistic team will poke one of the big 3 in the eye from time to time to improve that record but playing 12 Welshmen or any other similarly homogenous team to do so just doesn’t seem like much fun.

          • toro toro

             /  July 3, 2013

            Guys, it’s Saul. DNFTT.

          • Saul Evans

             /  July 3, 2013

            K2, moreinhope, I take your point but my own view is that the Lions has always been a ‘best of’ from the squad selected rather than a blend. Again they are all Lions once on tour and the coach has to treat all the players equally – it would be very unfair for a player to lose out on selection because his country had already filled up their quota.

            England did actually dominate the Test XV in ’89, ’93, ’97 and ’01 – and you couldn’t really argue with that

            Toro toro – get a life – I’m presenting an articulated view. You don’t have to agree with me and I respect that but I’m not a troll.

          • moreinhope

             /  July 3, 2013

            Well, it seems you’re not alone in your thinking Saul as it turns out. I don’t like the idea of there being a quota either but I think as tours go on it becomes less of a ‘best of’ in the best individuals sense but a best of in terms of units: front row-back row – centres etc. The selections become more conservative and are founded on settled combinations rather than individual excellence. In a pragmatic sense (my eternal indebtedness to all things Bod doesn’t allow me to be pragmatic if I’m honest) maybe playing all the Welsh players is the best option open to Gatland, maybe not. The coach goes back to what he knows and we know what we’re going to get. There has been no unexpected star/bolter from this tour. A lot of us were hoping that Hogg or Tipuric might be that player but they never got a go. Maybe this is a result of the pressures of a limited preparation time etc. The tour has left me a little cold in truth.

            Of course that might change with a booming touchline conversion from Halfpenny to win Saturday’s test such is my fickle nature.

          • Saul Evans

             /  July 3, 2013

            I’d agree with that moreinhope, a combination of the best players and also those that fit the game plan and also where appropriate advantage is given to players that compliment a unit.

            I didn’t expect Gatland to actually do what I proscribed – it’s a big gamble but something had to change after last Saturday.

          • toro toro

             /  July 3, 2013

            It is articulated insofar as it has separate parts, yes. Occasionally, it even rises to the level of “articulate”.

            But what on earth about your supposed articulacy stops it from being tedious one-note trolling?

      • Bushmills

         /  July 2, 2013

        12 Welsh players to take on Australia? Interesting. Remind me how many times in the last 12 months have Wales lost to Australia?

        • Saul Evans

           /  July 2, 2013

          Yes – heard this a few thousand times – but it’s irrelevant.
          If you watched the games you’d have seen that Wales were the better team in 3 of the 4 tests – which all turned in the very last couple of minutes.

          Gatland wasn’t there for the first three and more importantly the awful Rhys Priestland was – who was at fault for turning three last minute wins into losses.

          Scotland beat Australia last year – should we pick a load of Scottish players?

          The answer is obviously no – the coach picks the best Lion available to fill each position to implement the team strategy – there is no minimum or maximum from a country and nor should there be.

      • JD2 was shite at the weekend. BOD had two poor moments that I can remember, but was otherwise very good, and has been far and away the best centre on tour. Davies missed a number of tackles, including for the try when he dithered in defence. If he hadn’t fucked that up we’d have won the series by now.

        Aside from that, Heaslip has been far better than Faletau while Evans has been the worst lock on tour.

        • Saul Evans

           /  July 2, 2013

          I think there are green tinted glasses with BOD there to be honest. Legend that he is, time waits for no man.

          • Leinsterlion

             /  July 2, 2013

            He didnt make any glaring errors unlike JD2.. A loose kick was the worst thing he did, which in light of the JD2 comedy roadshow, was inconsequential.

          • Saul Evans

             /  July 2, 2013

            He did pass the ball to Falau didn’t he? He is simply no longer the best option for Gatland’s gameplan at 13 – though I expect him to be selected to fill the captaincy role – I wouldn’t pick him.

          • toro toro

             /  July 3, 2013

            When Davies dithered and messed up his running-line, yes. Everybody’s seen Murray Kinsella’s video by now.

  11. Never seen so many true words in one place… my favourites: ‘Warren Gatland stands to be castigated for exceptionally reductive, negative tactics in a second test which was there for the taking against a nervous, mistake-ridden Australia.’ MELODIC…

  12. What a bloody nightmare Saturday was. Agree with all of the article and nearly all the above too. The only real talking points are how exactly to apportion blame (apart from the coach & selectors, who take the most, obviously) and what, if anything can be done to try and sort out this ugly mess before next Saturday. As for the first point, blame: 1- the scrum was dire. Sky were bleating on about how well the Lions recovered in the scrum later but the truth is Craig Joubert was letting Vunipola away with murder, (coming in at 30 – 45 degrees off straight) Neither Raymond Poitre or any other ref is going to let that happen a second time. Vunipola in turn had to cheat, simply because he evidently doesn’t have the skills or experience to contest a scrum in a legitimate (or legal) manner. If Gatland starts him again (does he know what video tape is, or an overhead camera angle?) then that’s one of about 4- 5 possible erors that mean not only will the Lions loose but they will richly deserve to.

    Nor will we even compete for the final test, we’ll just get penalized or yellow carded out of the contest. Why on earth didn’t they fly out scrum cover earlier? (Mike Ross even) instead of now passively praying Corbisiero recovers in time. (which I heard yesterday he’s 50/50 at best to do)

    Blame 2- Line out. Loosing a critical attacking line out in the last minutes. Was this 2001 deja vu? Just throw it short and maul them over the line.

    3- Midfield. One of the commenters above said after an earlier post that Davis and BO’D are not a combination. He was clearly right. BO’D (my personal God the last 13 years, so this hurts..) was very mixed bag, defense superb as usual, but rest of his game average. his interception pass in retrospect was very costly, happening earlier on, the only time in the whole game the Lions were on the front foot, (before they decided to kick like aimless chickens and defend their paper thin lead for 60 minutes).
    They should still probably retain BO’D, combine him with Dr R or with (my pick) Tuialagi. But as for Davis… Sky-hype was raving about him after some of the earlier games. His “incredible reading and his distribution skills”. couldn’t quite see it myself. Either way, on Saturday he was awful. Not only did he pass or rather fail to pass. (“his uncanny distribution skills” ? I don’t think so)
    He was also clearly at fault for Adam A-C’s try. You might say something had to give and the Lions had it coming. It was and they did. But that’s still not a licence for him to abandon the defense shape and drift in off his man. Bloody idiot.

    Positives? Very few. Warburton did emerge with credit, got his turnovers & forced penalties going. I think the guy above who criticized Lydiate is a bit unfair, he tackled them down all day. In fact i think backrow did fine, once you bear in mind of course the Lions spent 60 going backwards in defense. there was simply no go forward ball. You can’t blame the 3 back rows for that, behind a bad scrum and aimless kick-chase.
    Defense in general was excellent. Needed to be. Otherwise we’d be discussing an absolute hiding, richly deserved.

    As for next Saturday. Without Corb back. ie: without a scrum, we can forget it. And a midfield. And a backline, and a…
    yours sincerely, – looking forward to whitewash in New Zealand 4 years time.

    • Keith

       /  July 2, 2013

      Surely the back row are responsible for go forward ball – their task on offence is to generate quick ruck ball, and punch holes in the australian defence. This is where the Lions have struggled – they have not carried ball strongly putting the aussies on the back foot. This is why they need to put a strong ball carrier in at 12 and somewhere in the back row – on this front SOB looks the best option. You could also opt for Faletau who carries a bit better in the tight than Heaslip, but JH is defensively excellent and Faletau really doesn’t impress me that much. I’d put Grey in for Parling as well for the same reason.

  13. Jimbob

     /  July 1, 2013

    The use of the bench has again been baffling. Vunipola was staggering around with 10mins to go and Grant was sat there picking splinters out of his arse.
    Had AWJ stayed down when he got a knock in the first half, The Lions would’ve lost by a lot more. Croft simply wasn’t a viable option in the 2nd row.
    Cuthbert, who could feel hard done by after being dropped, was never going to offer anything different to Bowe/North – so why was he there?
    Farrell is understandable considering you need insurance in the event J10 or a centre gets hurt.
    I’d like to see Vunipola, Lydiate, Youngs and Davies dropped for Corbisiero, SOB (Tipuric in for Warbs), Murray and Tuilagi. Bench to look like Hibbard, Vunipola, Cole, Gray, Croft, Youngs, Farrell, Zebo (or even Wade despite his poor showing so far).

  14. Absolutely agree with Jimbob’s first comment above. Can not understand for the life of me why Vunipola was left on so long, if there was any cover (at all) available. He’s sometimes brilliant in the loose but in the tight -5 he has become a liability. Plus, even in the loose, by the last 20 he was gasping hard for air as well. (Which is fair enough, Huge man, (heaviest in the whole squad) but for God sake get him off. Like most of Jimbob’s drops and selections too. except i fear we may need Lydiate again. Everyone keeps bashing him because there’s been so much debate about the back row three and obviously something (someone) has to give. But keep him, if fit. It doesn’t matter if he has been one-dimensional; his tackles have been crucial. Sometimes it really is just about putting guys on the ground. Your bench looks reasonable but not, I fear, poor Wade. Did you see his impression of a tackle, for the one game he did play so far? Offers zero defense. Can not be included. Zebo on bench yes, or even to start possibly, although I think you have to stay with North and Bowe, who did not do a lot wrong. Just not a day to be a winger, sod all go-forward ball.

  15. Conor O'F

     /  July 1, 2013

    Another quality read lads, thanks. Have to say, by half time I was almost ready to turn the TV off, but the thoughts of an exciting endgame kept me watching, and so it played out.

    The refereeing so far has been a little meh, with both sides having their own justifiable gripes at some of the officiating. Last week at the treatment of the breakdown, and this week, for me, at the (lack of) clarity at scrumtime. It was clear, even to front row virgins, that Vunipola was boring in on Moore (or was allowed to do so according to Dean Ryan), and he was correctly punished on a few occasions for this. The Ozzies handled the Lions scrum admirably for the most part on Saturday, and I feel the Lions were particularly lucky not to be reduced to 14 early doors. Despite his turnovers, and carrying ability, the decision to leave Vunipola on was a big gamble, although from the TV shots I saw of Grant he didn’t seem particularly interested in coming on anyway! Green and Gold rugby do a good analysis of the scrum today btw.

    Have the refs been neutered by the nature of the series? I don’t know if this has been explored elsewhere, but I think there is pressure on the referees in this series not to issue yellow cards, either because they feel some need to maintain an even contest, or because of some sweet-talking by Sam and Big Kev. From memory, there were a few incidents in the 1st test where the Ozzies got off lucky, Genia’s cynical foul close to his own line for example, along with repeated maul infringement. I’m sure that in any other Test match these transgressions would have been punished with a card?

    Has anyone else noted the Wobs consistent closing of the gap at lineout? Again, no punishment from the referees. There were however some superb defensive lineouts by the Wobs on Saturday, Mowen in particular was outstanding at reading the back of the lineout plays and disrupting clean ball. Despite winning clean, if rather unusable, ball at the front in the first test, the Lions calls made the lineouts much more contestable this weekend. An early front-of-lineout play, where Youngs the Elder was dumped back into touch may have influenced the change?

    I initially felt sorry for Youngs the Younger in many respects on Saturday, especially his punishment at scrumtime for delayed feeds (the early push by the Ozzies was bizarrely never penalised). Having watched the first half again on tape however, there were too many unforced errors that should prevent him being selected for the decider. There were a couple of bogey passes, along with his ill-timed solo snipe after the 10 man lineout, with large numbers of Ozzies pinned in the ruck and Lions numbers good on the open side.

    The Ozzies seem to have adapted well to Lions tactics as the series progresses. It’s not in the Ozzie psych to kick away good ball, but it’s a tactic I think might reap rewards for them. The cross field kicks to North have reaped rewards so far, and I would expect more of the same to both wings this weekend. Incidentally, for whatever reason, I was largely underwhelmed by Tommy Bowe on Saturday, albeit that he was chasing kicks all day and I don’t expect Cuthbert would have done much better.

    The Ozzies have the momentum, and for me, it’s the Lions who are now chasing the series.

  16. Yossarian

     /  July 1, 2013

    If we are going to take the field with no strategy in attack like we did the last day we need to pick game breakers who can do it on their own. That means tuilagi,SOB, and probably faletau. We probably need to freshen the team anyway as they must be shattered after that tackle count.
    Gatland ruling himself of ever getting New Zealand (prob a long shot but may have hoped to follow Henry’s route) with the brand of rugby we have witnessed so far.

  17. Kenny Bonella

     /  July 1, 2013

    if anyones shat in Bawheid’s shoes its Ryan Grant. The Leinster boys will make a case for Healy, but IMO Grant was best LH in our league last season. If I can take you back to Glasgow’s last home game of the season, a Budgies front row of both hair bears and Hibbard, with AWJ and I Evans behind them got their arses booted all over Scotstoun. it must’ve taken Adam days to try and find his way back out of Grant’s pocket. 4 of those Budgies are currently in Oz as lions. I’d love to get behind the Lions, but the way scots players have been ignored in recent years in favour of average welsh/english players has finally worn me down

  18. Rich

     /  July 2, 2013

    Agree 100% with the above – Gatland’s record against Aus is shocking so we should not be surprised – we simply cannot have a current national coach as Lions coach – it was like us having Kidney, pick their tried and tested and when the pressure is on the sink back to “close the game down” for last 20 mins

    I have never seen Sexton kick that much – even BOD put one in – at least i was reminded why BOD never kicks. That game plan was suited to ROG – Straight up – whats the point in picking the best players and then playing like that. Aussie banter was more about how boring we are – even guys behind shouting “Are you England in disguise”. I have no issue with Gatland picking Welsh players if they are playing well – but many are not, J Davies put in the worst performance i have seen in a very very long time and was clearly targetted by Aus when they saw how limited he is – BOD had oconnor all day for their try but yet the young man still steps in and leaves AAC? Yet he is picked ahead of Tuilagi!

    I have to go onto a Sydney rugby TV show as Lions pundit this week and not looking forward to it – hard to argue after that dross on saturday – on the plus side SOB was the best ball carrying forward i ll just keep repeating that!!

  19. What happened on Saturday was a misfiring side with serious kinks in their attacking shape ground out a win, just about, based on their comprehensive set piece dominance.

    The midfield, the tactics – all secondary IMO. Just seems like no-one wants to say the above – crushed in the tight? by the Wallabies? – when that would be all she wrote if we’d played exactly the same match against the Boks or BNZ.

    I agree that we showed little ambition, and I understand Sexton’s comments about feeling like they were playing not to lose. However, Gatland clearly has some interesting attacking plans in shape, but we never once laid the platform from which this team wants to attack (of course, teams can change up, but I’ll come back to that).

    Warren, as we all know, likes to be able to take the physical side of the sport and the set pieces for granted in the teams he coaches. Once he has that, he’s happy to add all sorts of less mundane stuff. Three combined issues:

    – Line out
    – Scrum
    – Hard-yards carrying (or lack thereof)

    The shite line out was dealt with by you fellas (and some notable others, eg. Dean Ryan) last week, and we saw the same sort of utter toss this time out. There’s no excuse for this, the squad has had plenty of time, and it has not once looked good.

    The scrum remained a penalty risk right throughout the match. The knock-on effects of having such a poor set piece (Oz also regathered a couple of their own kicked restarts) – and the breakdown being a hotly contested draw – is that we started off on the back foot after nearly every restart.

    A glance at the metres made figures is chastening. Our big carriers were completely ineffective. Coming off set pieces second best will mean an opposing defence has the advantage. Crash bang boom is usually the best way to change that, and we had none of it – cue an extremely organised defensive line, pretty much at all times.

    We’re in our own half, their defence has the upper hand, our scrum is a penalty risk (huff and puff, go nowhere, eventually knock on or similar, scrum, scrum penalty, three points them – that’s the worrying potential pattern in this case which you try and avoid). I try to avoid the clichés, but insofar as there is truth to the saying “You have to earn the right to go wide”, we earned absolutely nothing.

    This is made all the more acute because, as it happens, we especially failed to get much by way of territory WITH possession (Sexton only kicked the ball six times, and does anyone remember much of that happening in the Oz half? We tried to play when we were there, we just hardly ever were).

    How else can you get territory, when your tight runners are getting stopped, there’s no space out wide and you are worried about getting stoppages (and therefore set pieces) in your own half because they’re going to badly? Kick and chase. Which we did, pretty well, but they defended it with just as much ability.

    When the foundations are all shot to pieces, it’s hard to blame the tactics. We had no good-odds options – in which case, there are no good tactics, except in a relative sense. Yes, we might have run more ball from our own half, and it might have worked, but it might have been a disaster. Presumably the reason we didn’t see this happen is because we were in the lead for nearly the entirety of the second half. With a penalty risk scrum, and with a lead, against a side whose attack you are handling pretty well, would you start flinging it around despite having no platform? Taking those sorts of risks?

    I’m not defending it, I’m not saying it was good rugby, but there’s a reason we gave such a two-dimensional performance, and it goes back to our calamitous set piece (and subsequent inability to compensate for that with big carries to rattle an organised defensive line).

    For that reason, we need Corbisiero (scrum), Roberts (better than JD2 in all facets, while also providing a bit of basic ooooooooooooooooooooooooooh in midfield), and a miracle (line outs).

    The front foot ball depends on the set piece. Fix the scrum, pick O’Brien at seven as well as the returning Roberts, and I think we can get some momentum. Do that, and we’re in a good place to win. We can do it without an attacking line out, but not as long as the scrum is also buggered.

    It’s a big ask for players returning from injury to fix the holes. Fingers crossed. I’m not hopeful!

  20. abitofshoepie

     /  July 2, 2013

    I hate to say it, but I’m bored with all this Lions malarky despite the imminent winner-takes-all-battle-to-be-a-legend-super-saturday-only-here-on-sky-sports-athon this coming weekend. The style of rugby has been such an anti-climax, the best of B&I players being instructed to play such a rigid and predictable game. I don’t buy into the ‘there isn’t enough time to develop our game’ argument……the Lions ethos should be to be let our best players play the game the way it should be played, free from the usual shackles of the 6 nations table and world ranking points. To read the BOD newspaper quotes this week about the need to ‘play test match footie’ was quite disheartening. Does anyone know when the Pro-12 starts up again so we can watch some decent stuff / guys just out of school running rings around the likes of Warburton and Davies?

    • K2

       /  July 2, 2013

      I couldn’t agree more. As much as I would like to see the lions win, I would prefer to see them play rugby with a bit more freedom. This was supposed to be the last bastion of the amateur spirit in rugby. Well Sky have put paid to that, all the hype for these must-win matches. The Lions concept will be damaged more by their conservative/boring ethos than by losing this series.

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