5 areas the Lions series was won and lost

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KICKING FOR GOAL

How the Aussies must wish that Christian Leali’ifano hadn’t been injured after 50 seconds of the first Test. The numbers here do not lie.

• The Lions won the first test by 2 points, and between James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale the Wallabies spurned 14. Once Lealiifano was back and kicking they didn’t miss another kick at goal.
• The second test was decided by a single point. The Lions missed 2 penalties that evening.
• In the third test, the Aussies turned down penalty kick after penalty kick in the first half. James
Horwill asked his kicker to put it in the corner 4 times instead of accumulating points. Before O’Connor went over as half-time approached, the score could have been as close as 15-19. It was, in reality, 3-19.
Leigh Halfpenny was named Man of the Series partly because he was such a reliable figure when faced with penalties and conversions – his prowess in this regard (along with Farrell in the midweek matches) set the tone throughout the tour. You give away a penalty against us, you get punished.

THE SCRUM

An important weapon and an area of no little force in the first two Tests, it became the focal point around which the Lions were able to dominate possession, and build up points and field possession in the decider. Adam Jones was incredibly strong, the selection of a massive Richard Hibbard was justified and Alex Corbisiero was an animal, even a revelation. Benn Robinson was able to just about deal with Jones but Ben Alexander was given a lesson from the English loosehead. Schooled by Corbs, and sent to the naughty step by Romain Poite, Alexander never returned – a huge psychological win for the tourists’ front row.

The locks too had a big part to play and the sight of Geoff Parling and AW Jones stuck at the hip as the Lions scrum marched forward was a thing of beauty – if you like that sort of thing. They totally outscrummaged James Horwill and Kane Douglas.

GEORGE NORTH

A colossus and a freak.

A winger that will go down in history as one of the finest in a long tradition of Welsh flyers.

A brilliant, brilliant player who was able to stop everyone talking about Israel Folau.

The closest thing to Jonah Lomu Britain has ever produced.

Made me think about joining Kanye West and naming my child North too.

THE BENCH

This was always going to be skewed in the Lions favour. For all the pride Australia has in its rugby team, they are perennial over-achievers considering the lack of depth they have compared to the other top tier rugby nations. In a land where NRL and AFL are still the big deal with the majority, it is not surprising that the Wallabies’ bench is not the strongest. The Lions were able to call on players like Dan Cole, Tom Croft, Dan Lydiate, Sean O’Brien, Tom Youngs and Manu Tuilagi at various points in the Test series to bolster the on-field side. No such luxury for the home side, especially in the first test when they had to resort to using a flanker at inside centre.

THE FANS

There is no doubt that the Australian sporting public are fanatical, especially when facing a side from our fair shores. No matter the number of yellow mining hats, and flappy-clappy plastic thingies though, this tour, more than any before, was about the Sea of Red.

Estimates have said something like 40,000 British and Irish fans followed their heroes around that enormous country. What an impact they made. Swamping the centres of Hong Kong, Perth, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney the Lions’ players came out at each match to a roar that resonated all the way from home.
The biggest impact must have been on the Wallabies though. When you come out to an enormous crowd in your own country it must be at the least irritating and at worst genuinely frightening to hear ‘LIONS! LIONS! LIONS!’ ad infinitum.

Christian Leali’ifano maybe said it best: “The hardest thing was just trying to hear myself think. It was really, really loud, everyone was screaming, all the Lions people were trying to put me off. The atmosphere was just amazing, as amazing as anything I have ever known in my life.”

By Chris Francis (@mckrisp)

21 thoughts on “5 areas the Lions series was won and lost

  1. Selection: Gatland wasn’t afraid to make tough decisions, ultimately proven correct. Dingo had a brain fart that playing a winger @ 10 (with 1 test cap as a 10) was a good idea. Stubborn to a fault he then sticks with it twice more. He must have had Leivremont and PSA in as his selection consultants.

    Scrum & Reffing of Scrum: Australia have the world’s best non-scrum. They have become outstanding at negating a strong scrum and preventing it from becoming dominant. Poite forced a contest, not getting away with early hits, not getting away with dodgy binds, not getting away with not lining up square and straight. He forced it to be a contest and the Wallaby scrum was exposed for what it is. Think they are in big trouble under the new rules where props will be correctly bound square and straight and power/technique after the hit becomes more important.

    1. Yes Matt, selection, spot on. JOC might think he’s a ten but it’s hard to understand why Deans agreed with him. It’s like when Arsenal had to politely explain to Walcott that he might think he’s a centre forward, but….

        1. in fairness to Foden, he made it as a pro player as a 9. Saint-Andre spotted the potential and said he should play 15. he was still a pretty decent 9, he played saxons i believe (also got his first England cap off the bench as a 9).

          Similarly, Tom Youngs made his name as a centre, but shifted to hooker.

          JOC on the other hand played 10 at school. then made his name as a centre/wing/fullback. the more senior he has become, the more he decided he wanted to play 10.
          same with Hogg. became a pro as a 15, wing or 13. The lions decided he can play 10.

          some changes work, some dont.

          Agree with Brighty, Mogg should have been picked from the start. he has been the form aussie 15 in the super 15 this year.

          and on the note of not picking certain players… Cooper?

      1. He’s not a 10. and I don’t think he ever wanted to be, so big brain fart there from Deans. Not playing QC wasn’t mentioned. Deans was rightfully sacked imo.

        1. “I don’t think he ever wanted to be”

          His comments in the press saying “10 is where I want to play” would suggest otherwise…

          JOC has made it very clear, and for quite some time, that he wants to play 10. Deans gave him a shot.

  2. The main one missing is the referee. We should have lost the first test, we did lose the second but once we had a referee who applied the laws correctly we trounced them.
    We shouldn’t go too overboard about how good the Lions were as the opposition, once they had to play to the NH interpretation of the laws was actually pretty poor. If Australia play the same standard against NZ even with a SH ref they will be smashed.

    1. Watched Barnes early this morning on Sky running down the achievements of the Lions, bit of luck knocking out LLF, should have lost the first, did lose the second, no one would have cared about the 3rd, bit like South Africa. He really does believe that every silver lining has a cloud!

      The flaw in the logic is we have no idea how the series would have panned out had Beale’s kick gone over. Aussie’s certainly wouldn’t have been playing with that do or die desperation and maybe the Lions would have. If Beale’s kick had gone over it’s maybe we would have seen Tuilagi, Hibbard and Faletau in the second test? We will never know.

      Yes the reffing was influential, but I don’t accept the should have lost the first, did lose the second, therefore should have lost the series argument.

      1. Especially when you take into account that both the first and second tests ended the precise same way – with the losing team having a long kick at goal which would have swung the result.

        Barnes is such a southern hemisphere one-eyed jack. When the ball goes to the wing from an Aussie team he assumes its going to be a try every time. It’s just grating.

  3. On the selection side of things, I think Deans’ decision to pick Smith over Hooper and drop Gill was a massive mistake.

    Discounting his collision with Hibbard (if it had affected him, he shouldn’t have come back on the pitch), he had little to no effect on the game. Just goes to show, that no matter what the southern hemisphere believes, Super rugby is no preparation for the intensity of a test match – and particularly a series-deciding test match vs the Lions

    Hooper had played well to that point and so had Gill when he came on. To drop these guys for a bloke, who may be a legend, but who hadn’t played test rugby for 4 years was a poor decision

    1. To be fair to Smith it had been about 10 minutes when they clashed heads hadn’t it? (I may be wrong but I thought it was early on). So not necessarily a fair judgement of whether he could hack it or not. Was still a massive risk, particularly dropped Hooper who had been excellent in the first two tests.

      1. It was only 10 mins or so, but the point is that they let him back on the pitch, so you have to assume that he was fine to continue and judge him accordingly

        Surely, they wouldn’t have pushed him back on had he been suffering from a concussion?

        1. Having suffered from concussion myself on many occasions, I guarantee that he was concussed. It was obvious as soon as he tried to stand and his legs went – he was gone.

          No idea why he was allowed back on the field, but he shouldn’t have been – and that wasn’t for very long so it is harsh to judge him.

          1. Jacob. I am lucky enough never to have been concussed.

            However, the Aussie Rugby Union guidelines on concussion state

            A. Players suspected of having concussion must be removed from play and must not resume play in the match or training.
            B. Players suspected of having concussion must be medically assessed.
            C.Players suspected of having concussion or diagnosed with concussion must go through a graduated return to play protocol (GRTP).

            So I can only assumed that he was assessed and found not to be concussed.

            Furthermore he was subbed in the 66th minute.

            I feel fine about judging him, unless he was actually concussed in which case Deans and the Aussie team have some serious questions to answer

        2. It is very strange. In the pub so many people were saying they couldn’t believe he was still no the pitch. He may have been allowed to play on but he looked out of it to me!

          1. I entirely agree with you – especially when he first came back on

            But I can come to no other reason for it than he was deemed fine to carry on by the medical staff – the downside to them throwing him back out there with a concussion would just bee too big surely?

        3. You would certainly assume so. We will probably never know. I hope for his sake that they did not do that.

          1. i think that Smith’s selection (and allowing him back on the field) may have been slightly sentimental.

            unlike the non-selection of BOD, Deans decided to go for the old stager in the final game, as a bit of a roll of the dice. Hooper had been pretty decent all series, and didnt deserve to be dropped. similarly, Gill had made a good impact off the bench in the first 2 games.

            if i was to have dropped any of the backrowers it would have been Palu. he was a waste of space. probably would have shifted Mowen to 8 and started one of the other 7’s at 6.

    2. second your thoughts on Hooper. Hooper was one of the outstanding players of the second test. So Deans dropped him. Why?

      Smith was a shadow of the player I remember from before. Just a flat out bizarre decision. Good idea (perhaps) to have him in the squad, but Hooper has flat out proven that he’s a test quality player by now.

  4. Smith has only had a decent return to Super rugby, I had watched him all seson since the very impressive debut when Pocock went off injured, after that game the comentators and coaches were hell bent on giving him every ounce of credit they could, and he was always going to see some Wallaby action because of media and public pressure, what a mistake that was!
    Hooper was excellent in the first test and good in the 2nd, he didn’t deserve dropping at all, and for Gill to drop out of the squad totally was crazy. The only thing I could think of was that Deans craved experience at the breakdown with Higgs, Pocock injured and no experience at lock, but it was a crazy way to get it!

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