Chiefs 6 Lions 34: Five talking points
Creativity still an issue, did any of the Irish do enough for test selection and give the Haka a rest
Jack Nowell’s second try came when the Lions were down to 14 men. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
Where is the creativity in this Warren Gatland team? It is the question that has been asked since the first match and one that still has not been answered. The score after 40 minutes was 6-13, hardly an illustration of a potent attacking force that can threaten New Zealand.
You would have to ask how Leinster or Munster, missing key players, would fair against a touring All Black side (okay, okay Munster beat them once). But rather than focus on the depth of New Zealand rugby, where is the cutting edge in this Lions team? And does Gatland have the capacity to impart that onto this group of players when they step on to the pitch in Eden Park on Saturday?
On evidence so far the answer is no. We are likely to see more high balls, more relentless pressure, squeezing time and space. The Warrenball way.
Brave to a fault?
Against the Highlanders, Courtney Lawes bounced off Waisake Naholo as the All Black charged towards the line to score the first try of the game.
Replays showed that his left arm had inadvertently clattered into Lawes’ head and the second row appeared to have suffered a concussion. Lawes was removed from play.
He was back on the park against the Chiefs right as rain but suffered another head injury and was removed from play, presumably for a HIA. That assessment completed, he returned to play and finished the match.
In November 2014, Lawes recovered fully from the concussion that forced him off after just 23 minutes against New Zealand and was ready to take one of the most physical challenges in the game against the Springboks the following week.
Some players have a remarkable capacity to recover from a head injury including the gifted English lock. Maybe it shouldn’t be seen as such a good thing.
Lack of respect
The lack of respect shown by the New Zealand media to the touring Lions has been wonderfully consistent and poisonous, so much so that the stakes have been raised for the first Test match.
The vitriol poured over Warren Gatland and his team has been so relentless that anything other than a win for the All Blacks would now rank as a national embarrassment.
“Unimaginable levels of mediocrity” . . . “A disgrace to the jersey” . . . “Warren Gatland is clutching at straws” . . . “Low risk rugby”.
Such is the low opinion of this Lions side that it has put more pressure on Steve Hansen - who contributed to the conversation - to come up with a performance that will not just beat the Lions (because that is wholly expected) but to humiliate them.
The derision can cut both ways, but over the past couple of weeks it is almost as if the New Zealand media are setting the tone and sending a loud message to their national team that they will lose this first Test match at their peril.
Well, it says a lot and means they will probably miss out. How many forwards - or centres in Henshaw’s case - play by design on a Tuesday and again on Saturday.
Henderson, particularly, should feel disappointed with Gatland probably going with Maro Itoje, who also has the ability to cover backrow and secondrow. Stander is up against stiff competition in the backrow with Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien and Toby Faletau, Kruis and Wyn Jones in the second row with Warburton and Itoje on the bench as cover or impact.
And Payne? No. Too many probably now ahead at 13 and at fullback.
Enough is enough
There was a time the Haka was a thing of wonder and amazement. Were they going to do the throat slit or not? Were the Lions going to react or stand arm in arm looking at the opposition with a pretend smile of indifference or would they muscle up like Willie Anderson did at Lansdowne Road in 1989, when he almost had to be held back from nutting Wayne Shelford.
The Haka is now been dutifully performed at almost every match we see in New Zealand. It has become the elevator music of rugby, a spectacle certainly but when a spectacle is performed before every game, when it becomes as familiar as the national anthem it loses its impact and mystery.
Curb the Haka. Let it be something reserved for special occasions. How many spears can a captain fit in his suitcase? Save the Haka from overexposure.