Five games down, two more to go before the first test in Christchurch and I think we finally have the names of some of those players on the test team sheet.
The Lions pack can feel rightly pleased at their performance today. Jenkins, Byrne and White bossed the Wellington front row for the entire match and had it not been for a few strange decisions at scrum time, the Lions could have and probably would have shunted the Wellington pack backwards every time they packed down.
Jenkins’ all round play was superb and his try just before half time was good reward for a tremendous all round effort on the park, I would be extremely surprised if Sir Clive Woodward has not inked him in to start against New Zealand next week.
The opposition may have been weaker than that faced on the weekend, but the performance from the Lions was much more in line with what we would expect to see against any opponents from the land of the long white cloud.
The pack of forwards out on the field at the Westpac Stadium finally came to life committing in numbers and actively competed for and won a fair amount of ball at the breakdown. Neil Back will undoubtedly get the plaudits for the turnaround, but credit must go the supporting forwards who gave Back the space in which to operate that was not afforded to Martyn Williams on Saturday.
The biggest problem facing the Lions as test week approaches is that our fly half options are diminishing with each game that passes. I was quite scathing of Stephen Jones’ performance against the Maori and I still stand by those comments, but with Jonny Wilkinson still looking every bit like the man who hasn’t played international rugby for eighteen months we are looking short of options at ten.
It looks pretty much like a straight fight between Jones and Wilkinson for the shirt regardless of the decent performance by Hodgson against Taranaki and for my money I think Jones still has the edge over Wilkinson, but neither has yet had anything like the kind of performance that will leave Dan Carter losing any sleep.
The game wasn’t anything like the standard the Lions can expect when they get to Christchurch, but it did serve to get the Lions back to winning ways. There is still much work to do particularly on the basic ball handling and communication along the back line, but the Lions still have two more matches to iron out those problems before the big one.
The House of Pain is the next stop for the Lions bandwagon and if the momentum can be carried over from this match and one or two more problems area resolved on the training pitch we should see another improved performance against the Otago boys. Let’s hope so.