The British and Irish Lions suffered their first defeat of the tour in New Zealand; the Northern Hemisphere side’s 22-16 loss to the Blues has naturally now raised concerns of a series whitewash on the cards for the Lions.
Sonny Bill Williams will likely be taking all the plaudits from what was an outstanding performance at 12 from the Blues man. Previous talk of Williams’ fitness following a major injury in the Olympics last summer will be put to bed, following a performance worthy enough to be considered a starter for the All Blacks.
The athleticism Williams showed for his try, coupled with a vintage Sonny Bill offload for Ihaia West’s winning try was a flashback of Williams’ finest moments both in rugby union and league.
However, away from the Blues, what is likely to concern Warren Gatland the most was the lack Lions discipline, and the moments to keep calm heads at the crucial moments. Hands in the ruck, looking at you here Joe Marler, and an appalling line-out in the dying moments of the game are the fine margins in test series against New Zealand sides; if you make silly errors such as these, you will always come up short against the All Blacks.
You can get away with it against teams like the Provincial Barbarians, but you’re not getting away with it against the Blues; and zero chance against Steve Hansen’s men.
Away from poor discipline and percentages, the predictable nature of the Lions during open play should concern Northern Hemisphere fans. There were a couple of occasions where the Lions put phases together, and made it past the gain line in the second half; however, away from this, the Lions were so poor in spreading the ball wide, and struggled to get any sort of expansive game going – there was minimal attacking edge in a side trying to already defend the “Warrenball”.
If the Lions are going to play such a predictable game against the All Blacks, scoring seven points can be forgotten about from open play.
Looking at the positives, both Courtney Lawes and CJ Stander looked very established in the forwards. Stander’s first-half try shows what a threat the flanker can be, coupled with Lawes’ excellent defensive play; both the Englishman and Irishman put a very good case for starting the first test on the 24th of June.
As well as this, the scrummaging from the Lions gave reason for encouragement. This was an area expected to be dominated by the Northern Hemisphere side, and they certainly delivered agains the Blues.
Regardless, this is a very costly first defeat for the touring side, and huge question marks will now be raised over Gatland and his side; it’s not going to get any easier with a game against Crusaders on the weekend.