Saturday, 10 June 2017

Blues & Crusaders vs Lions

Podcast Episode - 17

'Zero to Hero' as the British & Irish Lions take on the Aukland Blues followed by the unbeaten Crusaders

On Wednesday 7th June 2017, the Lions took on the Blues in Aukland, NZ. Expectation was high against the mid-table super rugby franchise.....expectation was not met!

The 23:
1. Jack McGrath (Ire)
2. Ken Owens (Wal) (c)
3. Dan Cole (Eng)

4. Maro Itoje (Eng)
5. Courtney Lawes (Eng)

6. Justin Tipuric (Wal)
7. James Haskell (Eng)
8. CJ Stander (Ire)

9. Rhys Webb (Wal)
10. Dan Biggar (Wal)

11. Jack Nowell (Eng)
12. Robbie Henshaw (Ire)
13. Jared Payne (Ire)
14. Elliot Daly (Eng)
15. Leigh Halfpenny (Wal)

16. Rory Best (Ire)
17. Joe Marler (Eng)
18. Kyle Sinkler (Eng)
19. Ian Henderson (Ire)
20. Peter O'Mahony (Ire)
21. Greg Laidlaw (Sco)
22. Johnny Sexton (Ire)
23. Liam Williams (Wal)

Lions lost 22 v 16 with the only Lions try coming from CJ Stander. Halfpenny was strong with the boot (100%) converting the try and knocking over three penalties, but it wasn't enough. Though the errors came thick and fast, the Lions had one final scoring opportunity with 30 seconds on the clock. Rory Best choked at the lineout giving away possession and the opportunity along with the victory was gone - as we suspect has Best chances of making the test side.

Fast forward three days to the 10th June and the last of the opening three games (the ones where everyone was guaranteed a start) and the Lions had another very different look about them. Was this a closer representation of what a test side might look like - definitely heading that way.

The Crusaders, unbeaten this year, looked strong favourites after the previous couple of Lions fixtures, but the Lions had a point to prove. 

The 23:
1. Mako Vunipola (Eng)
2. Jamie George (Eng)
3. Tadhg Furlong (Ire)

4. Alun Wynn-Jones (Wal) (c)
5. George Kruis (Eng)

6. Peter O'Mahony (Ire)
7. Sean O'Brien (Ire)
8. Talupe Faletau (Wal)

9. Connor Murray (Ire)
10. Owen Farrell (Eng)

11. Liam Williams (Wal)
12. Ben Te'o (Eng)
13. Jonathan Davies (Wal)
14. George North (Wal)
15. Stuart Hogg (Sco)

16. Ken Owens (Wal)
17. Jack McGrath (Ire)
18. Dan Cole (Eng)
19. Maro Itoje (Eng)
20. CJ Stander (Ire)
21. Rhys Webb (Wal)
22. Johnny Sexton (Ire)
23. Anthony Watson (Eng)

An early setback for the Lions saw fullback Stuart Hogg escorted from the pitch after a collision with team mate Connor Murray's elbow (an anxious wait ahead of him as it could end his Lions tour). Anthony Watson his replacement given an opportunity to show what he can do from the back. Not longer after, a seemingly in form Jonathan Davies also left the field for an HIA which never saw him return. His replacement, Johnny Sexton moving to 10 forcing Farrell out to 12 and Te'o to 13. Perhaps not a pairing the Lions wanted to use, but one of necessity that seemed to work.

For us, the combination of Murray and Farrell felt right. Bringing Sexton into the fold didn't look wrong and is a definite option for Warren Gatland, but we still have Farrell as the starting 10. Anthony Watson at the back looked strong on the counter attack and in defence and a definite hand raised with regards to the number 15 test shirt.

The Lions were clinical in defence, fast paced, and aggressive, putting the Crusaders under a lot of pressure and forcing errors. The Crusaders have scored and average of 4 tries a game this season, but they never really looked like scoring against the Lions. The set piece was also excellent both the lineout and in particular the scrum which they dominated - a powerful message to the All Blacks given that the Crusaders front five ARE the AB's front five!!!

Were there errors? Yes, it definitely wasn't a perfect game and still lots to work on, but the Lions appear to be improving with every game and any notion the Kiwi's had that this Lions tour would be a walk in the park have been securely put to bed (which bodes well for our 2:1 to the Lions prediction!)

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