Building to a climax
By Roger Childs
At the start of the Lions tour, most fans and media experts were expecting a 3-0 series win to the All Blacks. After the comfortable 30-15 victory in the first test, it was all going according to the script.
But then Sonny Bill Williams threw the visitors a lifeline in Wellington, and they now go to Eden Park with the chance of becoming the first Lions team to win a series here since 1971.
Both sides have plenty to play for, and the All Blacks will be very keen to continue their unbeaten run in Auckland since 1994.
Refereeing and judiciary inconsistencies
The luckiest player who will taking the field in the third test is Wellington born, Lions prop Mako Vunipola. He gave away four penalties in the second test, two of which were fouls against Beauden Barrett. The first was a late charge, then the second saw Vunipola dive on the All Black first five while on the ground well away from the ball, leading with his shoulder.
This last offence saw him sin-binned for 10 minutes and referred to the judiciary. However whereas Sonny Bill received the expected 4 weeks ban for his shoulder charge, the Lions prop got off scot-free. No justice there.
Fans will remember that it was Sonny Bill who was spear-tackled in the first test. This illegal action warranted a yellow card, however the offender was merely warned and only a penalty was given.
Let’s hope that in tomorrow’s game both teams have 15 players on the field for the full 80 minutes, and that the referee is even-handed.
Getting the tactics right
The All Blacks caught the Lions by surprise in the first test with a conservative approach. Instead of the expected constant running of the ball in the backs, there was plenty of variation and a lot of very effective “pick and go” up the middle from the forwards.
However in Wellington, they got sucked into the “high kick and hope” approach, frequently used by the Lions, and consequently too much possession was given away.
In the third test the All Blacks need to keep control of the ball and use their speedy backs efficiently by running two lines to counter the Lions rush defence. In scrums, the forwards should hook the ball quickly and Aaron Smith needs to fire it out to the backs without delay.
Using forwards like Kaino and Retallick to run the ball up the middle will also be effective. There is definitely room for some high kicks from the base of the scrum, cross kicks to the wings and chip kicks behind the Lions backs. However, the aim of a kicking game should always be to give your players a chance of regaining possession.
Risks and opportunities
With Ben Smith, Ryan Crotty and Waisake Noholo out with injury, Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape get their chance. Barrett junior always plays well with his brother on the paddock, and his ability to be in right place at the right time is reminiscent of the legendary Christian Cullen.
He has superb ball skills, is a strong tackler and in full cry will ball in hand is difficult to stop. Jordie’s one weakness is to sometimes hesitate when he gets the ball down the back, and he needs to take off quickly to spark effective counter-attacks.
Laumape had a mixed game in his first run in the All Black jersey at the Caketin. He has had a brilliant year in mid-field for the Hurricanes, but test rugby is another level. Malakai Fekitoa would have been a better bet in the run-on team. However Laumape would have learned plenty from last Saturday’s experience, and he will be anxious to make a positive impact.
Julian Savea makes a welcome return on the left wing. “The bus” will be determined to justify his selection and one would expect him to be looking for work, busting up mid-field and keen to increase his test try tally.
An eagerly awaited encounter
Eden Park will have a sell-out crowd for the third test and the atmosphere will be great.
The Lions would love to finish their tour on a high note, but they know the All Blacks are smarting from last week’s loss.
The home side have a proud record of series wins in New Zealand and will be keen to nail this one tomorrow night.