Their performance was a vast improvement on the First Test but not vast enough and neither could it be as long as they persisted in playing behind the gain line. This is not being wise after the event. Long before they went, I was banging on about the importance of getting over the gain line and putting the All Blacks on the back foot where they don't enjoy life half as much.
What happened? The first time the Lions went up the middle they scored. Gareth Thomas found space off a ruck and he charged through for an excellent try. You couldn't have dreamt of a better start but what followed was a recipe for disaster.
First they started making clumsy little errors that slowed down the momentum. Then they returned to the same old lateral tactics that played right into New Zealand's hands. I don't think they saw the gain line again, never mind cross it.
Lateral rugby against the All Blacks is suicide because they have the best drift defence in the world. You will never get on the outside of them. So they waited when the Lions had the ball, anticipated who eventually would try to carry the ball and then nailed him mob-handed.
I can't understand why players like Gavin Henson and Thomas weren't used to attack the gain line early and give their forwards a target. That's why I can't recall the Lions winning any good quality second-phase ball. New Zealand had plenty because their forwards were never short of a target and their work at the breakdown was superb.
It does help when you have a player of Daniel Carter's quality. He was marvellous. He runs with the ball in two hands, straightens up and creates space for those around him. His angles of running are great. Even his dummy runs are good.
What you can't avoid is that the All Blacks have a greater knowledge and understanding of rugby than their northern-hemisphere counterparts. Everything they do is simple but very clinical and every one is a decision-maker. It is not rocket science, merely an extremely high level of basic skills; the giving and the taking of a pass, timing, angles of running, speed to the ruck. They also employ a telling amount of gamesmanship that eludes the referee's attention.
Although some Lions gave a good account of themselves in patches it was difficult to credit anyone with a good all-round performance. Jonny Wilkinson missed an early penalty that would have put them 10-0 up but he hasn't played well all tour. There's no questioning his commitment in the tackle but his technique is still poor and that's why he got injured.
It was always going to be a massive challenge for the Lions but I don't think Sir Clive Woodward has given his men enough of a chance with the way he has approached the tour. I've long admired his thoroughness and attention to detail but his strength is in management and not coaching or tactics. But he took the pick of our best coaches with him. Didn't they have an input? You get the feeling that whatever team he put out would be hamstrung by his tactics and the lack of proper team-building.
Woodward claimed that this was best- prepared Lions squad ever to leave these shores. They probably were in many respects, but not when it came to the action. The decision to take such a large party, 51 players at the last count, has proved to be a major handicap in creating continuity and teamwork. As someone who didn't go on a Lions tour, I can't speak from personal experience but I've been on other tours and the essential element is the creation of trust and understanding on the field. But this was a joke. The Baa-Baas get more togetherness. You need to bond with the men you are playing with, to build partnerships and work on combinations.
No matter how good you are, you need to be able to trust the men around you and be able to anticipate what they are likely to do in the heat of the battle.
Woodward went out there with his First Test team in mind so why didn't they play together a couple of times beforehand? It might have been different if he had played yesterday's team in the First Test because it wouldn't have required such a massive rearrangement. But, there wasn't much point changing the personnel if you were going to persist with the same lateral tactics.
I can't imagine how they are going to turn it around in the last Test - unless the All Blacks decide to go on a pub crawl for the rest of the week.Reuse content