Ravaged Lions under a long Black cloud

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The Independent Online

The Lions move on to Wellington for the Second Test next week, when they could do with the leadership of the Iron Duke himself to avoid the prospect of a whitewash at the hands of the All Blacks. One down with two to go, the Lions are cornered after losing the opening skirmish by a goal, a try and three penalties to a penalty.

Such was the one-sided nature of the contest it could have been a whole lot more. As it was, in the land of the long white cloud, the players were hit by wind, rain, sleet and snow and the game turned into a nightmare for Sir Clive Woodward and his team.

They did not just lose the Test but their captain Brian O'Driscoll, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first minute, and the flanker Richard Hill, who broke down with the recurrence of a knee injury. The Lions claimed that O'Driscoll was the victim of foul play from Keven Mealamu and Tana Umaga but the charge was reported to have been rejected by an independent citing commissioner. One player definitely in the dock today is the Lions lock Danny Grewcock, who came on as a replacement and is accused of biting Mealamu on the hand.

The Lions front five were outplayed, particularly in the line-out. Only one team attempted to play rugby and they weren't the Lions. Had conditions been more conducive to a running game the All Blacks, far more dynamic in every phase, would surely have piled on the agony.

Woodward thought his line-out would prevail; it was a disaster area. He thought the All Blacks were far too confident; they had every right to be. Throughout the tour Woodward said he would pick the Test team on form but on the day of reckoning he went with the bulk of the red rose veterans from England's World Cup triumph two years ago. In fact almost everything he touched turned to dust.

The pack, with five English forwards, were placed firmly on the back foot. When Ryan Jones came on for Hill he was a stand-out performer, as he had been against Otago after flying out as a replacement for Simon Taylor. Shane Byrne, preferred at hooker to Steve Thompson because he was considered a more accurate thrower, saw line-out after line-out swallowed up by Ali Williams, who committed so many larcenies he could be related to Ali Baba. Andy Robinson, the Lions forwards' coach, admitted that anything that could go wrong did, from a breakdown in communications to players not jumping when they should have.

The All Blacks, leading 6-0 with a couple of penalties by Daniel Carter, got their first try in the 24th minute when Byrne's throw at a line-out was taken by Williams and he was driven over the line. It was one of many shocks to the system. Paul O'Connell, one of the line-out men who failed to find lift-off, was sent to the sin-bin for blatantly and illegally stopping an All Blacks attack and when he committed another offence early in the second half Carter kicked his third penalty, giving his side a 14-0 lead. It soon became 21-0 when Aaron Mauger breached Jonny Wilkinson's defence in midfield, Umaga threw out a huge pass to Sitiveni Sivivatu and the left wing wrong-footed Josh Lewsey to score.

Despite the atrocious conditions the All Blacks felt secure enough to move the ball wide. The Lions, on the other hand, kicked possession away at almost every opportunity. Their only score was a penalty by Wilkinson in the 55th minute.

The World Cup hero, returning from a series of injuries which had kept him sidelined for 18 months, played at centre yesterday and drew praise from Woodward. "It wasn't an experiment,'' the coach said. "Jonny had an outstanding game. He really stepped up to the mark.'' The true mark of the Lions is that they were forced to replace Jason Robinson, hapless at full-back, and reshuffle their back line, who looked as ineffective as the forwards.

The All Blacks have established base camp and next week in Wellington they will push for the summit. "I'm convinced I got the selection right and that we have a good team,'' Woodward said. "We've got to show a lot of character. It is very, very difficult to play without the ball. We'll deal with it this week and we'll have to look at it closely. We deserved to come second but it's not the end of the road. Losing our captain was a big blow. I'm glad I brought a big squad over here because we're getting battered. This is a tough place to come but if we can win some ball we've got the team to win.''

Martin Corry, who took over the captaincy, said: "We were all under par and it is not a performance we could be proud of. It's time to take a good hard look at ourselves. ''

The All Blacks had only ever lost once at Christchurch to the Lions. In Tests against the tourists since 1904 the score is now New Zealand 27, the Lions 6. It will not get any easier. "They thought their tight five were their strength,'' Steve Hansen, the All Blacks forwards coach said. "Take that off them and it made them question themselves. We've won one round but it's a three round contest.''

Graham Henry, New Zealand's head coach, said: "I'm looking forward to better conditions next week. We've only been together for two and a half weeks so we should improve shouldn't we? We were undercooked.'' If the All Blacks were undercooked the Lions were roasted on a spit. To the point of being well done.

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