Monday 25 September 2017

Brian Moore: Heroic win over Kiwis means little if Lions lose the series

Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions arrives at New Zealand Rugby Offices in Wellington for a judicial hearing after being cited for dangerous play during the second Test of the NZ Lions Series, held at Westpac Stadium, Wellington. Photo by Mark Tantrum/Sportsfile
Sean O'Brien of the British & Irish Lions arrives at New Zealand Rugby Offices in Wellington for a judicial hearing after being cited for dangerous play during the second Test of the NZ Lions Series, held at Westpac Stadium, Wellington. Photo by Mark Tantrum/Sportsfile
Taulupe Faletau dives over to score the Lions first try of the second Test at Westpac Stadium in Wellington. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Brian Moore

Let's get some perspective regarding the win by the Lions over New Zealand on Saturday in Wellington. The Lions were coming off a resounding first Test defeat by the best team in the world - one in which they were out-fought and out-thought.

To turn that around, irrespective of whether New Zealand went down to 14 men, is a huge achievement and they deserve praise for it.

This feat puts the Lions in a similar position to the 1993 team, which I was a part of. We squared the series in Wellington with one of the best Lions performances in New Zealand and went to Eden Park with high hopes of taking the series. As it happened we were eventually dispatched 30-13.

Looking back, I think we were a little too pleased with our second Test win. We had physically beaten the All Blacks and the margin of the victory was one of the highest recorded by the Lions. I do not think we displayed the desperation that we had done in Wellington, when we had faced ignominy had we lost.

Make no mistake, the Lions' win on Saturday was fantastic, but it was against 14 men for 60 minutes, with a kicker having an off day.

If the Lions lose the third Test the tour will have been a failure, however much they are rightly lauded for their efforts.

The second factor in our final Test loss was fatigue. Many players were held together by bits of tape and struggled through the final week's preparation, though nobody admitted as much.

In retrospect, it became apparent that some had given their best to win the second Test and had little more to give. This is where the Lions backroom staff have got to be at their best this week.

We travelled with just one doctor and one physiotherapist to augment the coaches. It was impossible for the medics to treat those players who only had slight niggles and strains because there were so many players who needed urgent attention to get them fit to play.

Rhodri Bown, the head of analysis, Eanna Falvey, head of medical, and Paul Stridgeon, head of strength and conditioning, must get this week's preparation right. They must tread the fine line between having the players do sufficient groundwork and either under or overdoing the preparation.

Knocks

Many players will be carrying knocks at the end of one of the most demanding seasons of their careers. Whatever their mental strength, many will be near the end of their physical endurance. They will give it one last blast, but need to be in the best condition to do so. If they can, anything is possible.

They forced a decider with a hugely physical defensive performance. The Lions denied the Kiwis their usual front-foot ball and the All Blacks struggled to find momentum.

It was a triumph of defensive organisation and captain Sam Warburton can be well satisfied with the example he set to his cohorts, who managed to sustain the physical competitiveness.

Conceding 10 kickable penalties was the only thing that threatened to undo the Lions' efforts, but with Kiwi fly-half Beauden Barrett having an off day they rode their luck and were deserved winners.

Coach Warren Gatland's selections had mixed success, but he is unlikely to deviate from a winning Test squad. Alun Wyn Jones combined well with Maro Itoje and the Jonathan Sexton-Owen Farrell combination gave the Lions an overall flexibility that countered the yards conceded down the 10-12 channel.

What Gatland has to decide is whether Mako Vunipola, a usually disciplined player, had a one-off aberration in giving away four penalties and getting a yellow card, because the Lions cannot afford a repeat of that.

There is every reason to suggest this Lions team can go one better than we did in 1993, but that depends on several things.

First, their discipline must be far better. Penalties given away when you are under severe pressure near your own line are understandable. Those given away when you are set in defence and not in danger of giving away a try-scoring chance, are unforgivable. Ten kickable penalties is an incredibly high figure and if it happens again the Lions won't win.

What the Lions have been good at is creating chances and they must convert a high percentage of those. They limited the Kiwis to three sustained periods of possession in the Lions' 22 and to deny them a try was remarkable, but it is unlikely to be repeated. Making sure they match New Zealand for tries is vital. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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