Monday 18 December 2017

Lions warned as supreme All Blacks vow to improve

New Zealand's Israel Dagg and Aaron Cruden celebrate Rieko Ioane's try. Photo: Reuters
New Zealand's Israel Dagg and Aaron Cruden celebrate Rieko Ioane's try. Photo: Reuters
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Israel Dagg has warned the Lions that the All Blacks will be even better next week when they'll look to clinch the series in Wellington. The winger, an influential figure in yesterday's 30-15 win at Eden Park, believes his side will improve on their opening performance in which they out-scored the tourists three tries to two having out-muscled them up front.

A Rieko Ioane double and Codie Taylor's first-half effort saw Steve Hansen's world champions take control of the series on a memorable night in Auckland.

The home side went for the Lions' strengths, neutralising their defence and over-powering their much-vaunted tight five, and Warren Gatland has much to do this week if he and his team are to turn the series around. His team will improve, but their opponents are also intent on getting better.

"When we think we've made it, that's when we're going to get tipped up," Dagg said. "We've got to recover, go over our game and do our review and Monday we're back into it - just trying to get better every day.

"They're going to get better with another week together - they're going to get a lot better. For us, we've got to keep working on our combinations and our game-plan, and hopefully get better.

"We've got to do it all again next week and it doesn't get any easier. We'll take this, but full stop now and we'll recover well and Monday we're back into it."

The Lions have much to improve on. They scored a phenomenal length-of-the-field try through Sean O'Brien, who finished a brilliant move that started with Liam Williams in his own '22', but were taken apart up front and coughed up too many penalties, losing the count 11-6.

"You look at the games we've played and that's a disappointing thing. We've given away a few soft penalties and they've been costly," Gatland said.

"In the games here, when the discipline has been good and we've given away less than 10 penalties in the game, it's been reflected in the performance.

"You put yourself under pressure by giving away soft penalties. We allowed them soft exits and it's an area that we'll have to look at next week.

"From a players' perspective, they'll be critical of their own performance and looking at what aspects of their game they can improve on.

"Particularly, the All Black tight five were very strong up front and we need to be tough on ourselves and honest with our own performance, where we need to improve.

"We felt we'd improved as the tour went on and we've learnt from the games, but a lot of those things are fixable.

"They brought an intensity, we know what to expect next week and we need to make sure that we're prepared both physically and mentally for next week to know what the step up is against the All Blacks."

The Lions have no fresh injury worries as they travel to Wellington ahead of Tuesday's clash with the Hurricanes and next Saturday's second Test, but the All Blacks will be without centre Ryan Crotty who pulled his hamstring, while full-back Ben Smith is a major doubt after failing his Head Injury Assessment.

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