Monday 24 June 2019

McBride calls for Henderson to beef up 'hopeless' Lions scrum and tight five

Ben Te’o – seen here tackling Sonny Bill Williams – had an impressive game in his first Test for the Lions. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ben Te’o – seen here tackling Sonny Bill Williams – had an impressive game in his first Test for the Lions. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

When the Lions last toured New Zealand, something coach Mike Ford said resonated strongly at the time, but was submerged by the chaos of 'Speargate' and the equally grotesque spin operation that followed it.

Ford, one of the recent converts from rugby league, was stunned at the disparity in the skill levels between the two sports and, just a decade into professionalism, how the southern teams also lagged far behind the north, as that series Blackwash would illustrate.

Twelve years on and it appears little has changed.

The Lions may have scored the try of the game, but that wonderful moment was out of the ordinary; too often, the ordinary stumped their limited capabilities.

New Zealand's genius is that they see no difference between the mundane and the magnificent.

"Some of the errors were very basic, ones you wouldn't expect," bemoaned 2009 captain and three-time tourist Paul O'Connell.

While the social media junkies overdosed on injections of the solitary try scored by the men in red, O'Connell was more concerned with the ball Liam Williams dropped to gift the freakishly talented Rieko Ioane his second touchdown.

For all that the Welshman had dazzled, his work was undone when he became utterly frazzled. Both scores were worth the same.

"Liam Williams dropping balls. Lineout five-metres out, you turn it over, you get it back, you turn it over again," said O'Connell.

"They played really poorly and contributed a lot to the scoreline rather than being completely dominated from the first minute to the last.

"They produced some line-breaks, but I think our ball-handling was poor, stuff we should be good at. Fair enough, you can't countenance for pieces of magic like Kieran Read's offload, but you'd expect to be better at the scrum five minutes earlier.

"I don't think the gap is that big, we just contributed massively to our own downfall."

The venerable Willie John McBride, veteran of the famous 1971 success, sadly agreed: "We had Mervyn Davies to do what Read did. The ball was never dead. We don't have those players now.

"Far too many mistakes and penalties. There were long periods when they didn't have the ball, but when you do have it, you can't lose it.

"They also lost ground in the maul. In '71 we got parity up front and then had backs who could beat them.

"But we're not finishing off chances in their 22 like they can. Stupid mistakes, dropping the ball, losing the ball in rucks."

The opening try highlighted the disparity. Under pressure their skills are phenomenal," said O'Connell.

"Watch a Guiness Pro12 or European final, I don't think anyone would try to score a try off a quick tap. You assume the ball goes over their bar."

The Lions were slow of thought and deed, from their reluctance to address their diminishing maul strength to their stunned inability to adapt once the hosts played a direct game.

"And not a tight game like we know it up here," noted O'Connell of the All Blacks' superb skills and impressive footwork in the close quarters.

McBride was stunned by the tight five's submission, adding: "They were better by a long way. The scrum was hopeless.

"And our angles were wrong in the rucks. When you take men on, you take them low, like they did. They were getting over players before they could release the ball.

"Everything we did was too static, too dead, too slow. Their momentum was so much better. They were making 20 yards at times, they couldn't get taken down. Their tight play was magnificent."

O'Connell is reluctant when prompted to make changes, but suggests the Farrell-Sexton combination may start - until we point out to him that it failed when tried in the final quarter.

McBride, however, was more strident.

"The back-row was alright and O'Mahony did well. I don't know about the lock forwards. Iain Henderson is a good scrummager and he wins ball that nobody else will win. He is strong.

"Alun Wyn Jones didn't play well. I'm not convinced about Maro Itoje, I would have Henderson ahead of him because he is hard.

"Itoje is quite skilful, but when he came on he wasn't very good. Henderson has played well all tour.

"They may change the back three, but who do you bring in? Leigh Halfpenny hasn't great defence.

"Why did they take Te'o off; Sexton and Farrell didn't work at all."

Paul O'Connell and Willie John McBride were speaking at an exclusive screening staged by Standard Life Investments, principal partner and jersey sponsor of the 2017 tour to New Zealand. For further information please visit

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