Before the Test I had assumed, like many others, that Warren Gatland had angered the Rugby Gods with certain exclusions from his squad. On the bench it seemed Parling was the only stand out impact man. Surely O’Brien earned his place and would be an ideal man who can cover 6 to 8 as if he was driving and tractor and bailing hay? But the Rugby Gods showed in the Lions favour in the form of missed opportunities on behalf of the Wallabies. 8 missed points from O’Connor in the first half and 2 missed penalties from Beale in the second half proved the ultimate deciding factor in this tight first test.
The Box Kick is an Art and a potent weapon that every scrum half needs in their arsenal. Philips’ kicking in the first half left much to be desired. Your ideal Box Kick not only relives pressure on your Forwards but also gives your Backs a chance to compete in open play. Philips’ kicks seemed rushed and neither provided respite for the defence nor opportunity to go on the offensive, and with men confident in the air like Halfpenny and North this is an unforgivable waste. The introduction of Youngs certainly gives a different detention to the Halves. In the second half Sexton seemed a lot more comfortable on the ball and good high kicking giving the back 3 good opportunity to attack.
Tom Youngs and Leigh Halfpenny
The value of these two players to the Lions game plan cannot be over stated. Firstly, Youngs practically guarantees primary possession with his Line-out throwing. In the first half he took safe options at the front with Heaslip and Croft. This was the savvy option with O’Connell and Jones marked men. As the game wore on he threw further towards the centre and tail of the Line-out to find the locks willing recipients of top class ball. 11 clean wins and no losses says it all.
The great advantage to having a designated kicker, whose stats linger in the high 90s, was proven to be the winning of the game today. This does not in any way undermine the contribution of the wingers with their well taken tries, but if you can’t but the ball between the sticks, you’re gonna have a bad time. If the Aussies had a good goal kicker it would’ve been 1-0 to the home team without any doubt.
In the Northern Hemisphere we’re taught that the Ruck is a contest. If you support your weight, stay on your feet and come through the middle you can contest. Apparently Chris Pollock didn’t get the memo. In the South they prefer attack centred Rugby. This has its advantages, no doubt, it’s more attractive, and it allows momentum for the team in possession and rewards positive play. But what about the God given right to defend, to scrap, and to give your team a chance to counter. Brian O’Driscoll, renowned for his defensive and offensive abilities, was judged to be off his feet twice in the Ruck, where it was clear he was well positioned and supporting his own weight. Warburton protested and BOD seemed positively irate but Pollock was having none of it. If the Lions were deliberately trying to slow the ball down you could understand his point of view, but they weren’t. They were contesting fairly, unlike the Aussies who stopped a potential Try at the end of the first half with men diving in from all angles. A penalty was awarded but cards are a necessity in that position.
Overall the Lions may consider themselves lucky but many positives can be taken from the game. The Line-out is solid, the scrum needs a little bit more work at the tail but faired quite well. The centre of the Aussies defence is a hole that can be exploited. Here’s hoping for a more convincing run next time out.