Thursday, 27 June 2013

British Lions - Comment on the 1st Test

There’s an old adage in rugby – the first name on the team sheet is the kicker. Australia have for several years ignored this preferring to pick their best players and hoping someone will be able to kick the goals. Well on Saturday their selection policy cost them the match. Deal Wanderers Under 15s would have made a better fist of kicking than the Aussie’s managed.
I had predicted an Aussie win but due to their selection policy they lost missing at least 4 kicks on goal.
Other than the result the match panned out much as I thought it would. The Aussie pack stood up quite well in the scrum, the Aussie tackling was in general strong, the Lions attacking flair was weak but, and it’s an important but, the Lions kicked their goals and the Aussies didn’t. It’s interesting that had they kicked as well as Halfpenny did for the Lions they would have won easily........... the refs interpretation of the laws handing the Aussies a host of penalties.
For the Lions G North was the only classy looking player, he scored what can only be described as a brilliant individual try. Cuthbert scored a second try for the Lions but overall behind the scrum the Lions offered little even though the Aussies lost most of their ¾ line to injuries.
Sexton (flyhalf) was in because of his attacking flair and was the  more likely to get the line moving but he failed to deliver - the line was ineffective, his kicking out of hand pretty aimless and he missed a crucial tackle on Falau when he scored his 2nd try.
At scrum half Philips was poor. He ran down blind allies, his kicking was poor and his and Crofts refusal to chase back when Genia took a quick penalty ensured Felau had an easy run in for the first try – the two of them just trotted back slowly after the Aussies had broken out on the side they were defending watching North  and Halfpenny try and shut down the move down .........which they didn’t.
In the scrum most played pretty well without being outstanding. Corbisaro had a good game (some newspapers have blamed him for the second try but a winger(Felau) will always beat a prop in the wide open spaces beside Sexton came no closer to tackling Felau). Youngs put in a huge effort both in tackling and carrying the ball. Adam Jones was strong in the scrum but does absolutely nothing else – just 2 tackles and 2 carries in the whole match. To put this in perspective I have gone to the official match statistics and it shows the tackles (T) and carries (C) each of the front row made.
Corbisaro  C 5 T8
Youngs C 8 T7
Jones C 2 T2
Cole C 0 T4
Vinopola C 3 T5
Hibbard C 3 T2
So Jones managed to contribute less than the substitutes (Cole, Vunipola and Hibbard) even though he was on the pitch 3-4 times as long. He carried and tackled less than anyone else on the pitch – quite an achievement really.
Both second rows were workman like rather than brilliant as were the back row. Warburton ended with the highest tackle count but didn’t carry at all.
Overall Genia was the best player on the park and Felau had a very good game scoring 2 tries and preventing one for the Lions.
 When the substitutes came on the Lions scrum seemed to be under a bit of pressure. Cole and Vunipola have been blamed for this but replaying the action several times I think Cole was actually ok and it was a lack of shove from behind him that was problem.............Parling had come on at that point for A-W Jones.
So what of the next Test – it’s hard to see the team changing that much. In the pack the Lions did what was asked of them. I just think they need to do it a bit more and carry the ball more effectively. A change could occur at scrum half but I struggle to see Gatland dropping a Welshman for an Englishman. A case could be made for dropping Sexton but Farrell is not renowned for his running play so I can’t see what that would achieve other than give the defence extra strength. The centres played ok but didn’t look threatening. The Lions may have options there but Tualagi would need to play brilliantly in the mid week game or Roberts  recover from injury to push their way in.
On the wing I don’t see anything changing even though Cuthbert didn’t look good and still looks off form to me. Halfpenny will remain if for no other reason than he kicked us to victory and is the best full back we have.
Predictions for the next test?
If the Lions don’t improve a lot they will lose. We have a small advantage in the scrum but as I’ve said before the Aussie front row are better than most people on these islands think. They’ve selected O’Connor at flyhalf which helps the Lions cause but Leali’ifano has recovered and will play meaning they have someone who can kick.

I've just seen the team.
The Lions have made 5 changes (now that I didn’t expect). Corbisero, O’Connell and it seems Mike Phillips are out due to injury with Croft and Cuthbert being dropped for Lydiate and Bowe.
Vunipola comes into the front row which will weaken the scrum a little but strengthen the running power (not that Corbiero was poor carrying the ball), Parling comes in for O’Connell – fine for the lineout but less strength everywhere else so potentially a significant problem both in the tight and loose. Youngs in for Phillips – Phillips played so poorly he should have been dropped anyway; a move for the better. Lydiate for Croft – I don’t like Croft that much but he actually played pretty well and I haven’t seen Lydiate doing that much so I don't understand this selection at all. Finally Bowe is in for Cuthbert. Since Cuthbert has been so poor I don’t see that as a shock or a problem.
Overall I think the forwards are weaker so our advantage in the scrum is eroded but I still think the real problem is in the backs. There’s no one who will open the Aussies up, nor will the substitutes (Cuthbert and Farrell) change that.
The Aussies now have a reasonable kicker in Leali'ifano and still look strong behind the scrum so overall .....................................Aus to win. Rugby in the northern hemisphere is not as good as we like to think it is and to win (and remember the lions normally lose tours) the team has to be good AND playing well. This set of Lions are neither. The one thread of hope is that the ref will be more sympathetic to the style of play adopted by the Lions/northern hemisphere teams.

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