The day that rugby was waiting for had arrived. The British and Irish Lions were playing the All Blacks at Eden Park. There was renewed hope for the home nations after improving performances against the Maori All Blacks and the Chiefs.
This, overall, was probably the best test match since the World Cup final in 2015. There was plenty of pace and the skill set was quite frankly awesome. The Lions had started the game well but couldn’t benefit from their early progress. Jonathan Davies made a good break with less than two minutes on the clock and Elliot Daly couldn’t finish in the corner.
The All Blacks looked uncharacteristically slow for some of the first half with the Lions charging down balls leading tot promising attacks. Beauden Barrett did recover from one of these charge downs with one of the most sublime one-handed pick ups that has ever been seen on an international rugby pitch. This pick up was an example of the gulf in class between the sides, that became evident throughout the course of the match.
Another issue was the discipline of the Lions. At the breakdown they weren’t sharp enough and it resulted in the concession of points. One of these being a penalty tucked away by Barrett and the other a brilliantly worked try, scored by hooker Codie Taylor. Again this try showed how massively the skill set differed from each side. The pass that Taylor received he expertly picked up from his boot laces, an expertly executed piece of skill that some backs can only dream of. What was even more frustrating about this try was that it came from a tap-and-go from a ruck penalty. If the Lions had been more switched on then it wouldn’t have been allowed to happen.
The Lions first try was, well, just pure brilliance from Liam Williams. He was Wales’ player of the tour last year and nearly ran the length of the field. He started off by completely selling Kieran Read before bursting through a gap and offloading at halfway. Davies gave the ball to Daly whose zigzagging run resulted in an offload back to Davies who fell short of the line and offloaded to O’Brien to go over the line. A magnificent try and definitely one for the history books. What would have made it better was if Farrell could have converted it. But you don’t get everything in life, besides even if the kick was good it wouldn’t of had an influence on the game overall.
Whilst this wasn’t a big talking point in the whole context of the game, Ben Te’o’s hit on Sonny Bill Williams was monumental. It was one of the biggest hits that has been seen on the tour so far. What made it so enjoyable is that they are two similar players. Both are Rugby League coverts who have made extremely good livings from both codes. I mean, Ben T’eo gets £28k for just walking onto a pitch for his club side. It was a great contest to see and gave the Lions huge confidence as Williams is iconic in the rugby world.
Then Rieko Ioane happened. The All Blacks won a scrum penalty to their advantage by spinning the ball to the left winger who dove down to bag five points for himself and his team. Plaudits to Kieran Reid, who after coming back after a broken thumb, did an off the floor offload that lead to Ioane’s try. Ioane’s second came after Perenara got boot to ball following Lions mishandling. The bounce of the kick befuddled the northern hemisphere defenders and Ioane outpaced the Lions wingers to dot down for another five.
The drama was by no least done with the Lions scoring a try through substitute scrum-half Rhys Webb. As per usual Webb was as lively as ever and scored two phases after a Lions maul that the All Blacks had pushed back.
The Lions pack looked well organised, the line-out in particular, this is in terms of getting the ball to the receiver, again the mauling wasn’t anything to be too impressed about. However, when you consider that in Super Rugby there isn’t much mauling, the Lions should have really come out on top. Scrummaging wasn’t very good either, the Lions didn’t really gain any penalties from the set-piece and were second best throughout the day. The back row was largely ineffective, O’Mahony was a good line-out receiver but not much more than that. Faletau wasn’t part of the game and O’Brien’s main contribution was making the referee go to the TMO for the second All Blacks try.
Overall, the Lions failed to impress. They were outclassed by a superior rugby team who at times carved through the best that the northern hemisphere has to offer.