Well, it was coming wasn’t it! The Lions haven’t learned from their mistakes and all those that have pointed out the obvious about the breakdown area have been convincingly been proved right. Again.
Lets concentrate on the positives first because frankly there weren’t that many of them. The work has obviously been put in on the defence and the Lions are reaping the rewards of that effort. Especially considering the second half introduction of Carlos Spencer meant that a more expansive game put greater pressure on the defence and aside from the try and a couple of handling errors by the Maori at crucial times, the Lions held firm.
The defensive effort was the main plus point, but then it really had to be. The Maori forward effort dominated proceedings up front with their back line showing glimpses of what we can expect when we face the real All Blacks in Christchurch. The fact was that the Lions rarely made any advances into the Maori half of the field and O’Driscoll’s consolation score came when the Maori had pretty much tied up the match anyway.
There were far too many players who can feel disappointed with their performances to name them all, but in particular take a bow Andrew Sheridan and Stephen Jones. The strongest player in the squad albeit one of the most inexperienced, and the man who brilliantly set the Welsh backs fizzing off to score tries at will en route to the Grand Slam.
With a dangerous back line containing the likes of O’Driscoll, D’Arcy, Lewsey and Williams, you’d have expected the ball to be shipped out to them whenever possible to allow them to run at the Maori and pull their defence out wide. Instead when actually in position to receive the ball instead of one of the front rowers, Jones often opted to kick long without finding touch and in front of the back three to run onto at pace. If the same suicidal tactic is used against Sivavatu, Howlett and co then we are going to get roasted in open play. Jones’ organisation of the back line was non existent and if the forwards were getting in the way he should have pointed out the desperate need for their presence at the breakdown rather than at first receiver.
The indiscipline amongst the Lions was persistent and uncharacteristic, and quite rightly resulted in the binning of Sheridan after attempting to take Luke McAllister’s head off. Had the punch connected then the Lions would have been a man down for the rest of the game rather than the ten minutes and the Maori would have racked up a sizeable scoreline.
The ill discipline was also prevalent at the breakdown, with Martyn Williams guilty of conceding penalty after penalty. Although to be fair to Williams at times it did look like he was the only forward getting amongst the Maori, his support from the rest of the pack was seriously lacking and usually resulted in a turnover, infringement or quick ball for the Maori.
The performance was not one to savour but all was not lost however and the Lions finished the match within one score of a victory. That will come as little comfort to the coaching staff when they review the tapes in the morning but as they look to build up the side ahead of the next match in Wellington, the areas for improvement are clear. How the team react to this loss and whether this bonds the squad tighter as a unit will be instrumental in ensuring that this isn’t the first step on the road to a series defeat.