The New Zealand media will once again be happily licking its lips when digesting the Lions’ defeat to the Auckland Blues, who were well deserved winners against the ill-disciplined tourists.
After an opening cagey win and one defeat, is there a real need for the alarm bells to be ringing for Warren Gatland’s side?
Not Bad From A Debut Skipper
It might not have been the result he wanted, but skipper Ken Owens put in a solid shift and lead the team well as he became the 25th Lions captain to lead a team out on his debut.
Aside from his skew-whiff line-out throw to squander a prime attacking position before departing from the field, the Welshman displayed lots of energy for a player recently coming back from injury.
The Industrious Forward Pack
Joe Marler backed up his convincing performance against the Provincial Barbarians with another encouraging display when he came on in the front row and made an instant impact.
The Quins prop bossed his opposite number in the scrum alongside Kyle Sinkler, whose fresh strength also helped dominate the scrum when he came on for Dan Cole. The Lions looked superior in large parts of forward play and showcased some classic northern hemisphere rugby through their driving maul.
Are The Best Yet To Come?
Gatland has also yet to ‘unleash some of his big hitters’ – including the likes of Sean O’Brien and George North, who both bring belts of experience having featured in the 2013 tour to Australia.
The Lions Have The Blues But Positives Can Be Found
In such a high performance environment, it’s all too easy to forget that anything but a comprehensible victory for Lions in these ‘warm-up’ test matches will attract any sort of criticism.
This defeat was a learning curve for Gatland’s team, but they will need to be much more disciplined if they are to earn a result against the Crusaders.
They will also need to address their ability to deal with momentum changes – two early Jared Payne chances to cross the whitewash early on were massive psychological blows which clearly took their toll on the men in red after a chirpy start.
Playing until the end will likewise be another key factor – the Blues were miles more alert and ready to react when Stephen Perofeta’s penalty clipped the woodwork, which lead to Sonny Bill William’s try.
Gatland is still fine-tuning his tactics and more importantly, trying to find his first fifteen against Steve Hansen’s All-Blacks. He is not looking for a team to beat one of the country’s finest franchises, but one of the toughest national sides in the history of the game.
Lions fans will be buoyed by the reserve artillery yet to be introduced off the bench, which they will need if they are to survive any test onslaught. But first, they need patience.
“Main photo credit”