Well Imy prediction was correct, the Aussies won. Sad that I was rather hoping to be proved wrong.
At the time I was probably like millions of other rugby supporters on these islands watching hoping they could pull it off but as always screaming encouragement at the TV failed to inspire the Lions in that eventful last 5 minutes, The Aussies scored the only try of the match and it was over.
On the score board it was really close but in reality the Aussies were in the driving seat most of the match. Their forwards were not over whelmed (as predicted) and their backs tried to play some rugby.....which was more than could be said for the Lions.
In many respects few Lions played really badly it’s just that they were ineffective – though I probably mean they defended well. The only short period of real dominance came in the first few minutes when the Lions set up several driving mauls from the line out and the only answer the Aussies had was to pull the maul down and concede a penalty. After the 2nd or 3rd such offence the ref said do it again and someone will go to the sin bin for 10 minutes. The lions should have gone for another lineout and drive as they were now only 15 yards from the Aussie try line but instead Warburton went for the kick. We got 3 points but we never threatened their line again, and inexplicably we hardly saw a maul driving maul again.
If you read some of the on-line press reports (and all the Welsh comments that accompany these reports) everything that went wrong was down to Maku Vunipola because he gave away 2 penalties in quick succession. However 2 learned props (Graham Price of Wales and Paul Wallace of Ireland) thought he was hard done by and the penalties should have gone the other way. As the game wore on the ref realised he'd got it wrong and the penalties started to go Maku’s way and he was driving the opposition back strongly at the end.
The Lions problems lie in their game plan (if they had one that is) and the inability for anyone to get over the gain line or make a break/half break. The lack of gain line success by the forwards was in part due to selections – Adam Jones may scrummage well but does not carry at all, Parling tries to carry but is too small, Warburton doesn’t carry, Hislip prefers running in the wide spaces as opposed to smashing it up and, if the assumption was the others in the forwards were going to do they didn’t (just look at the “yard gained” in the Official match stats if you don’t believe me.).
I don’t know what is going on at half back because whoever plays they are incapable to getting a move going and the centres were completely ineffective. What of the wings? They never saw the ball so all they did was tackle and chase kicks.
The key statistics in any rugby match is possession and territory – both these went to the Aussies by about 2:1. It’s simple, no side can hope to win with only 33% possession. I think this is a particularly interesting stat because we were supposed to have the dominant pack but they seem to have had all the ball. Why? Simple really, whenever we won the ball we immediately kicked it back to them and they kept hold of it especially in the second half when we struggled to get over the halfway line.
Needless to say with the Aussies having all the ball some of the Lions racked up a lot of tackles – Lydiate and Vunipola leading the stats. (Even Adam Jones managed 4 this week but that’s still only ¼ of those done by Vunipola).
To cap a bad day at the office Warburton (the captain) got injured with 10 minutes to go and is out of the final test. He missed the first few games because of injury and now the last. I hate to say “I told you so” but in my first post about the Lions I said “I also worry about Warburton as captain – I’m not convinced he will get through a tour such as this uninjured.”
So what of the decider.
It’s simple – we need players who can take it to the Aussies and put them on the back foot AND we need to keep hard won ball.
In the front row Hibard may replace Youngs (not that Youngs has played poorly) ditto Corbisaro for Vunipola with Youngs and Vunipola being on the bench. It will strengthen the scrum a little and mean Maku avoids being blamed for everything that goes wrong. It will however reduce our tackling ability because both Youngs and Vunipola have been heroic in that area and significantly.
I also think that one (or both ) 2nd rows need to be changed with someone heavier put in to take it to the Aussies. We need some carriers in the back row (Falatau and/or O’Brian). Playing the safe game and hoping we can scrape a win is not an option – the Aussies have got the measure of that.
The same applies in the centre – Roberts and Tualagi must feature – perhaps start with Roberts and have Manu on the bench. There has got to be at minimum 1 impact centre or wing on the bench.
I’m easy about the back 3 retaining their places mainly because they can’t do much if the centres don’t give them the ball as happened on Saturday.
Whatever we do though I still predict an Aussie win and with it the series. They will be cock a hoop with the victory and if they start playing with confidence we are in trouble.
I’ve been saying from the start that the Aussies are better up front than the Lions fans think and we would struggle to win it with the pack alone so that confrontation has gone as I thought it would. Where I was wrong was behind the scrum. I thought with the centres and wings we had we would over power them. Aussie tackling has always been very good (It’s had to be in recent years) but I expected that with the amount of possession we would get they would be broken down eventually and our huge backs would prosper. WRONG. We’ve got the amount of possession I thought we would get but for whatever reason we've lacked punch behind the scrum- though I did say in my first post that I thought O’Driscoll was past it and should not be on the tour.
The only place where we have totally outclassed them is in place kicking where Halfpenny and Farrell have been unbelievably good -I don’t blame Halfpenny for the last miss that could have won the game as it was always on the very limit of his range (as judged by one success and one failure from a similar distance).The Lions should have taken a quick tap and trusted their own play to create a better scoring opportunity. That they didn’t have the confidence to go for it speaks volumes.
Lions announce their team.
I can’t be bothered to rewrite the above but the team has now been announced.Hibbard and Corbisaro have come into the front row with Youngs and Vunipola moving to the bench.
Parling retains his 2nd row position with A-W Jones though Gray has come onto the bench. I would have dropped Parling.
O’Brian and Faletau both play in the back row.
Philips comes back in at Scrum half with Murray on the bench so no place at all for Ben Youngs – Gatland has had no idea at all about what is going on at scrum half and his selection here have been erratic to say the least.
The back row is completely different from that that started the first test and only Lydiate retained from the second – another area where Gatland has been at a complete loss as to who should play.
J Davies and J Roberts are now the centre pairing which is what I thought should happen with BOD dropped completely; Manu Tuilagi getting the bench spot. Fine with that.
So most of my predictions are in but I still suspect it’s too late. The Aussies now have a settled team whereas we are still making wholesale changes as we try to find a way to play. So as I said an Aussie win and with it the series.