Jonathan Davies: Poor plan, worse execution

Tour is being lost at the gain line - and in the selection meetings
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The Independent Online

For the Lions to succeed by playing a conservative game, their basics had to be exceptionally good. But the basics were not at all good. I would stop short of calling their effort in the First Test a shambles, but there was no shape and no pattern. The Lions played everything behind the gain line, and you cannot do that in New Zealand. It was unbelievable.

It was always the worry with the side selected by Sir Clive Woodward that if they went behind they would not have the threat of a Plan B to put points on the board. Of course, when Brian O'Driscoll went off so early, it quickly made that situation worse. The Lions wanted to kick well and to win territory. They did neither. The set-piece was a disaster, they kicked loose and they were hanging on for dear life long before half-time.

I cannot understand Woodward's approach. We all saw the damage the New Zealand pack did to France last autumn, and if Woodward thought his team were going to dominate the All Blacks up front it was a very naïve policy. Why did they kick all those balls in the air? If you want to play it tight, then keep the ball, pick and drive, and go from ruck to ruck. It was as if they had no confidence with ball in hand. Whether it was free-kicks or penalties, they tried to kick deep and put pressure on the All Blacks, but it never materialised. All the pressure was on the Lions.

If they wanted a forward-based, wet-weather game they needed to pick players to get over the gain line. But that was not the way the side was picked. For weeks I have argued for a No 12 to attack the gain line - and there was no shortage of candidates in Gavin Henson, Josh Lewsey, Gareth Thomas and Tom Shanklin. Instead Woodward went for Jonny Wilkinson, who put in a fantastic try-saving tackle on Doug Howlett, but is not the type to hammer the gain line. The Lions probably hoped to bring Thomas and Lewsey into the line but they lost their first line-out, which did not exactly augur well, and rarely achieved good field position.

So the line-out went pear-shaped and the kicking game did not work. In those circumstances you look to the bench, and Woodward talked afterwards about hindsight, but I said beforehand that I would have had Henson, Shane Williams and Andy Sheridan in reserve as impact players. Geordan Murphy was another possibility. Instead, the Lions had one impact player - Ryan Jones - and he was on anyway in the first 20 minutes because of an injury to Richard Hill. Ryan made an impact, though not in the ball-carrying area. No one in a red jersey was able to do that.

Neil Back was not in the game. Daniel Carter dominated at fly-half for the All Blacks and had all the advantages that Stephen Jones lacked. I could not see any pressure being put on Carter, whereas the pressure on Jones was immense.

The All Blacks had the luck of the bounce and the Lions suffered a triple whammy when Sitiveni Sivivatu should have been penalised for diving on Jason Robinson, a knock-on was missed and Paul O'Connell went to the sin-bin.

The second half started as badly for the Lions as the first. Martin Corry missed the restart, then the Lions kicked a penalty to touch and lost the line-out. What summed it up for me was when, 15 minutes into the second half, the Lions got to the All Blacks' 22 and went for goal with a penalty. The time for being conservative had gone. Going from 21-0 to 21-3 was never going to win the game. It went from bad to worse until the All Blacks eased off, knowing they had won the match.

It is not all about Clive Woodward. The coaching behind him has not been great and there has been a negative feel to most of the tour. This Test was a couple of steps up from the moderate provincial opposition the Lions had faced before, and the tactics were not outstanding.

The Lions defended up-and-out, which is a quick rush then a drift. It simply allowed the All Blacks to hit the inside shoulders of the defenders, and guys like Aaron Mauger and Tana Umaga are very good at that. And what a fabulous pass it was from Umaga for the try by Sivivatu.

I am struggling to think of any positives for the Lions. If Woodward sticks with his tried and trusted for the Second Test, they are going to get absolutely battered. I would have advocated Shanklin's inclusion to get over the gain line, but to top off a miserable day he, like Hill and O'Driscoll, is injured and out of the tour.

Winning the series would have been a tall order if all these guys plus Lawrence Dallaglio had been fit. Now it is not far off being impossible, with just a glimmer of hope if the Lions change tactics and change selection.