Developing into a competitive team
By Roger Childs
The record so far is not that flash: two wins out of four and just 5 tries in four matches.
First up the Lions should have easily beaten the invitation Barbarians which was made up of “second tier” players, however the win over New Zealand’s top Super Rugby franchise, the Crusaders, will have given them heart.
In the other two matches they were up against tough competition and they only lost in the dying minutes.
Improving as they go
It is understandable that touring teams in any sport, take a while to settle down. In the second game against the Blues they were outscored three tries to one, but it was only the brilliance of Sonny Bill Williams and Ihaia West late in the game that gave the home side the victory.
Against the Crusaders they were deserved winners 12-3 in a tryless encounter, and they showed the strength of their defence and their superior kicking skills.
Under the roof of the Forsyth-Barr Stadium in Dunedin last Tuesday they scored three tries to two and only a late penalty by Marty Banks denied them the win.
New Zealand’s Super Rugby teams are like test sides: strong across the board with many All Blacks and other players who would not disgrace the national team.
Indicators of improvement and skill
The Lions have some superior kicking skills compared with Kiwi sides. In the game in Christchurch, Owen Farrell showed the importance of accurate kick-offs. Twice he caught out the Crusaders with very high drops kicks which allowed his forwards to arrive as the ball was coming down. On both occasions the Lions won possession and swung on to the attack.
The goal kicking of the visitors is also first class, although in Dunedin two crucial penalties were missed and it was the home team that nailed the winning penalty.
However, it was in the game against the Highlanders that the Lions backs were passing and running with confidence, and a number of times they were able to bring in an extra man to put the winger in the clear.
No doubt the All Black coaches will have noted these skills!
An interesting weekend
With the first test just a week away, both sides will be honing their skills and tactics over the weekend.
The All Blacks have a warm-up against Western Samoa tonight and they will remember nearly getting beaten in Apia back in 2015. No doubt all 23 players in the squad will get a run, and none of them will need to be reminded that there is plenty of talent to take their place if they falter.
Meanwhile on Saturday night, the Lions take on a strong New Zealand Maori side and they will be keen to win this encounter. A decisive victory in this match, will send a strong message to the All Blacks that they are not to be underestimated.