Tuesday 6 June 2017

NZ Provincial Barbarians v Lions

Podcast Episode - 16

NZ Barbarians vs The Lions

- Tour Opener -

As the Lions prepare for their opening game of the 2017 tour to New Zealand, the assumption is that they've got a pretty simple task ahead of them as they shake off the jet-lag and get focused on the serious rugby in the days and weeks ahead. What no one expected was what followed over the course of the next 80 minutes! 

As fans, we were confident, right up until about the 6th second of the game when the Barbarians kick off (from none other than Warren Gatland's son Bryn) sailed over the head of the Lions receiver, popped up and came to rest in the hands of a Barbarian. Immediate pressure and the Lions were on the back foot. What! 

For 40 minutes, we just assumed they'd turn it on any minute and put a cricket score on them, it never happened. The Lions went in at the half down against a side with absolutely no Super Rugby franchise players - embarrassing!

On a plus, our England boys did quite well. Marler and Sinkler started up front and both looked strong as the scrum dominated. Some great running rugby from Kyle would definitely have made Warren take note. In the backs, the english centre pairing of Te'o and JJ looked strong too, particularly for Ben who made some great breaks and show real strength in attack and defence. Anthony Watson out on the wing also had a great start and would have been over early in the first half if anyone else, anywhere on any team had been inside him. Unfortunately, Stuart Hogg was having a shocker (possibly playing himself out of contention for a test spot) and Anthony was just about able to retain possession in what should have been the easiest try of his career. 

Poor performances from the Irish captain, Rory Best, at the lineout, a quiet second row (Henderson and Alun Wynn) and not much from Captain Warburton were slightly overshadowed by some excellent, physical rugby from Moriarty and fellow Welshman Faletau at the back including a superb, try saving tackle from Talupe that really showed his class. 

In the backs, Greg Laidlaw (or Gregor if you're Stuart Barnes in commentary - come on Stuart!!) had a good first half, controlling what he could of the game and kicking well as he always does. The big shocker was Sexton with all the pressure of Owen Farrell on the bench waiting for his chance - he choked. Poor kicking, a lack of leadership and direction and all in all a very mediocre performance may well have put his test chances in jeopardy. Dan Biggar may find doors start to open - watch this space! The centres did well, and we've mentioned Watson and with a good performance from Tommy Seymour, that just left Stuart Hogg who we've already mentioned! Not the world class Lions we were expecting and a lot to do if they want to take any pride home with them at the end of the tour.

The biggest plus from our point of view was that all the England boys seemed to step up and remain in contention for a test spot (in our opinion).

Despite expectations that changes would be made early the first half starters were given another 10/15 minutes to try to turn things around, but when the decision finally came, Farrell got his chance, on for Sexton, Jamie George took over from Best, Mako came on for Joe Marler and George Kruis got his chance for Ian Henderson. Other changes included Tipuric for Moriarty, Furlong for Sinkler, Webb for Laidlaw and Payne for Seymour.

It was instantly clear that Owen Farrell is world class. The team lifted and though the score line didn't show it at the full time whistle, a link up between Farrell and Watson saw the England and Bath flyer touch down for the Lions first and only try. Farrell did miss one penalty that would have put the home side 2 scores back (unlike him) but his tactical kicking was excellent as usual and his control of the game was exactly what was needed. He must be looking at favourite for the test 10 (even if we are just one mid-week game in).

Again the England boys did well. Jamie George showing why he's still the best Hooker in England and putting his name in the hat for the test's, Mako doing what Mako does best and George Kruis having a reasonable run out in the row. They definitely earned the chance to have a bigger crack at the whip before any decision get made so watch this space - could be mounting up to be a very England-heavy test team.

Final score 13-7 to the Lions so a win but wow! What a long way they have to go before they can really consider themselves worthy to compete with the reigning world champions and currently the best team in the world by some margin.

Next up the Lions face the Blues at Eden Park and they'll need to seriously up their game if they don;t want to be a laughing stock. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt and say the jet-lag played its part, but absolutely no more excuses. Do or die time and a great opportunity for a team with 15 changes, to make their mark.

Team to face the Blues is:

1. Jack McGrath (Ire)
2. Ken Owens (Wal)
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. Elliot Daly (Eng)
12. Robbie Henshaw (Ire)
13. Jared Payne (Ire)
14. Jack Nowell (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. Jonnie Sexton (Ire)
23. Liam Williams (Wal)

Another strong showing from the England boys as Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes and James Haskell get their first starts and a chance to prove their worth. Plus second chances for Marler and Sinkler off the bench. In the backs, Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell have the opportunity to do their thing. The absence of Owen Farrell anywhere in the 23 is more likely to be a positive than a negative as hie world class reputation among the coaches may be just what we predicted - nailed on to start the tests.

Other notable changes include Ken Owens at hooker (and captain for the day), Jack McGrath, CJ Stander at 8, Dan Biggar at 10 (presumably to test his metal against Sexton as Warren looks for his 10 replacement), Henshaw in the centre and the controversial Leigh Halfpenny looking to justify his inclusion on the tour - with what we've already seen from Hogg, he doesn't have to do much, but lets hope we see the Halfpenny of 2013 out there tomorrow.

On the bench, O'Mahony and Liam Williams also get a chance to stretch their legs.

Expectations are high amongst the fans, but lets not loose sight of the fact that this is a completely different side to last weekend. The lions have a large squad to choose from and a long way to go so we're not giving up on them yet. Come on boys, lets make a statement down in New Zealand, time to turn it on...

Podcast Episode - 16

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