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This play is rather straightforward: ground is made by smashing over the gainline in a somewhat slow and dogged manner. The selection of England’s centre cover, Ben Te’o, appeared to be intimation that this would be the way the Lions would go. However, this has not been the case. It is to the credit of the coaches of the tour that the Lions have played some superbly fluid rugby, making the upmost of their pace on the outside and using the bulky forwards only when necessary.
So how has this tour gone thus far? Well, it’s been a mixed bag. The Lions initially got off to a very shaky start winning at the veriest of margins against the Barbarians, a group of players who struggle even to break into the Super Rugby mold. However, this can mainly be attributed to the long season which had befallen the Lions, what with the grueling Premiership, Top 14 and European Cup finishing just before the plane was set to take off. On top of this, of course, is that the players have never played with each other before, bar those that have on previous tours such as Alun Wyn Jones and Mako Vunipola. This hectic schedule and inexperience inevitably leads to a rusty performance, which was only allayed by the matches they played against the Crusaders and the Chiefs, two of the best Super Rugby teams in the league.
Despite these performances, however, the All Blacks were still by far the favourites to not only win the first Test, but to also win the series by a comfortable 3-0 victory. This is a team, we must remember that has won back to back Rugby Championships and, of course, historically back to back World Cups. They’ve shown that they aren’t beleaguered by the loss of the legendary Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Indeed, the latter, who won player of the year in 2015, was replaced by Beauden Barrett, who went on to win player of the year in 2016 – a testament to the talent of New Zealand rugby if they ever need one.
But this was not how the first Test originally planned out. The Lions started brilliantly, making good ground through the forwards and looking slick through the backs. Indeed, had it not been for a brilliant covering tackle by Israel Dagg, Elliot Daly would have been in within the opening minutes. But the All Blacks stayed firmed and believed in their brick-wall defence, which was only torn apart by a slick break by Liam Williams which dissected the New Zealand line who went on to send Daly storming up the wing, a step in and outside, an offload to Jonathan Davies who imitated and set up the tracking openside, Sean O’Brien to score perhaps the greatest Lions try of all time. If New Zealand had any preconceptions about the rigidity of northern hemisphere rugby, this try was sure to dispel them; the looks on the New Zealand fans when the camera panned around the crowd showed a nervous agitation – their team was looking as if it had met its match.
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