Best Of The Weekend: Lions Take It To Decider

Williams’ shoulder gives Lions a chance

The history books won’t care about the circumstance. They won’t care about a red card. They won’t care about indiscipline. They won’t care what the weather was like, or that the reigning player of the year missed some easy kicks at goal. They will only care about one thing: the result. The result in this case was a history-making 24-21 victory for the Lions.

Let’s keep the result in context. Whilst it has certainly made a mockery of most people’s 3-0 All Black predictions and taken the series to a deserved decider, it was 15v14 for most of the game after Sonny Bill Williams’ rightful red card. On the other hand, you can only beat what’s in front of you, and the All Blacks at home (even a man down) is rugby’s ‘Everest’. Next week, they will have to conquer something even more sizeable: a wounded New Zealand with a full complement at their fortress – Eden Park.

The teeming rain couldn’t drown out the atmosphere both sets of fans created around the ‘Cake Tin’ and the physical intensity on show from the off was in keeping with that. There were uncharacteristic errors from New Zealand and the Lions had noticeably upped their game in the opening exchanges. Beauden Barrett was off-radar with some kicks, but managed one to take the lead, before Owen Farrell responded. Then, Williams recklessly shoulder charged Anthony Watson in the head and the game changed. The All Blacks – whilst they kept composure – were obviously more conservative. Frustratingly, the Lions couldn’t assert authority and indiscipline meant it was 9-9 at the interval.

Those penalties threatened to undermine the best chance of victory over the hosts they were ever going to have, particularly when Mako Vunipola saw yellow after visibly losing his head. The World Champions edged further and further ahead, creating an ominous looking nine point gap. Then, the Jonny Sexton-Farrell experiment came to fruition. The defence was stretched one way and the ball fired back the other, leaving Toby Faletau with only Israel Dagg to trample on his way to the line. One opportunity, one score. Barrett restored a converted try advantage, but Connor Murray sniped over for a converted try himself. Two opportunities, two scores, level-pegging and the Lions were believing. Minutes remaining and a score needed, the All Blacks were unfortunately (although correctly) penalised for taking a man out in the air and Farrell slotted the points that would win the game. They made it difficult for themselves in the closing minutes, but as Murray booted the ball out, all of the difficulties were forgotten instantaneously with a famous win.

Very little is needed in terms of personnel change next week, with Vunipola being used as bench impact instead of starting the only one I would make. Bringing in the menace that is Maro Itoje was the correct call to partner Alun Wyn-Jones and his cool head and that combination should be retained. Also, they seemed to find their clinical finishing for the first time this tour. However, they still need to find a way to control possession and territory. Lightening won’t strike twice and we won’t win if we struggle to dominate those facets against fourteen men, let alone fifteen. However, they have given us all hope and filled us with a disproportional level of adrenaline on a Saturday morning. What more can we ask for?

Come 10:30 in Great Britain and Ireland next Saturday morning, we will know what the history books will be recording. Can the Lions make them write it in their favour?

Kings continue to surprise

With the focus on the Lions and the Northern Hemisphere’s domestic season over, you’d be forgiven for forgetting Super Rugby was back after its short break. Southern Kings shocked Los Jaguares to win 31-30 in Argentina, whilst Stormers beat Cheetahs 40-34. Bulls also got a win against Sharks 30-17 and Lions smashed Sunwolves with a huge 94-7 scoreline.

Hero of the week

Stephen Ferris said in the punditry that he thought the Jerome Garces had a poor game. I completely disagree. I feel he got every big decision correct, and, by my reckoning, almost all of the small ones too. It wasn’t a free-flowing game anyway, so he didn’t need to worry about that. He helped make it the game it was: intense, bruising, physical, honest.

Villain of the week

I don’t think there is any disputing that the first red card received by an All Black in fifty years deserves the ‘accolade’ this week. I don’t believe it was intentionally designed to harm Anthony Watson, but Sonny Bill Williams‘ shoulder charge to the head was incredibly clumsy and left the referee with no choice but to wave a red card. Ultimately, it cost his side the game.

Try of the week

Warrick Gelant bagged himself a hat-trick for the Bulls, which could have been worthy of the hero award. Instead, I shall name the first of those – after a hectic period of play – try of the week. To watch it, follow the link.

Discussion points

– What needs to change in the game-plan to come away with the series?
– Should there be any player changes?
– What next for Sonny Bill?
– If Eddie Jones were to describe Itoje as a car now, what would he be?

By Joe Large

11 thoughts on “Best Of The Weekend: Lions Take It To Decider

  1. Must admit I was unsure on dropping Te’o, and was also calling for him to get on the pitch with 20 to go, however it was from around the 60th that they came to the fore. You could visibly see both players directing players around the pitch and it such a difference to the Lions accuracy.

    On changes, I’d definitely swap Mako and McGrath. I’d also consider starting Lawes as I thought he made a huge impact when he came on, however AWJ isn’t exactly an impact sub and there is no way Gatland completely drops him.

    1. Yep agreed on
      McGrath for Mako
      Lawes for AWJ, Hendo to bench
      and maybe Tipuric to bench in place of Stander

      Still unsure about Whether he should stick with SexFaz or bring back Teo

      1. I’ve really not been impressed by McGrath so far. He was demolished in the scrum in the first test and had little impact in this. Perhaps he would be better as a starter but on the evidence from this tour, I’d start Marler and have MV on the bench. Gatland won’t though

        As for the Sex/Faz combo, I’m still unsure as well. Kaino monstered Farrell early in the game and I think it was lucky for the Lions that he was removed after the red card. Later in the game Laumape was making some serious ground through the 10/12 channel. Had the AB’s 15 players all match I think the defnce would have been sorely tested there.

        However, there is no doubt that the combo started to gel in attack and the two tries and the end of the game can only have given Sexton and Farrell a massive boost in confidence. On grounds that I’d rather the Lions look to their attacking game, I’d stick with them

        1. Marler is still subject to the same brain fades that we saw from Mako. McGrath isn’t flashy but relatively solid

  2. I would agree with swapping Mako and McGrath. I would howevere disagree with starting Lawes. I would bring back Kruis and keep Lawes on the bench. Have the Krutoje partnership working together as they do so well. Lawes on for the last 25 to disrupt and throw himself around.

    1. Krutoje with Lawes on the bench would be great. If not, then Henderson in there. Basically AWJ would be my 5th option however we all know he will likely start…

      I’d definitely stick with Sexton and Farrell, they played so well together with ball in the hand. They looked really dangerous for the first 15 minutes, and when those two opportunities arose they were both key in helping to finish them.

      Other than maybe lock, and the loose-head swap, I wouldn’t touch the 23. Stander could make a great impact if needed, and he really brings something different.

  3. We really did make it difficult for ourselves didn’t we? Still to score 2 tries against the AB and keep them from crossing is a sterling effort.

    The first 20 mins of the final test are going to be paramount. The AB will come out the blocks on fire and if we don’t soak up that pressure the game will be over before we know it. If we do and then start to exert our presence on the game ..who knows?

    Agree with everyone else Mako defo on the bench otherwise an unchanged team. AWJ was solid if not setting the world alight and can’t see him having an impact on the bench so makes sense he stays where he is.

    Itoje (bar a few penalties) was absolutely immense, loved hearing the crowd chanting his song and loved the fact that the NZ Herald gave Itoje 4/10, the lowest rating of any player on the pitch lol!

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