21 Jun 2017

UK media reaction: Lions on the prowl after Chiefs win

7:20 am on 21 June 2017

The rugby talent on display in the Lions' win over the Chiefs last night has the UK's press pack drooling into their pints of warm bitter, writes Michael Reid*.

Lions winger Jack Nowell heads for the try line.

Lions winger Jack Nowell heads for the try line against the Chiefs. Photo: PhotoSport

If this was a dress rehearsal, Wazza's understudies frocked up pretty well, hey.

But this was as much about those offstage as those on, and the coach's script may now need a tweak or two.

WalesOnline nailed it first time. "It was the game nobody wanted to be picked for," it said, "but after dishing out a 34-6 hammering to the Chiefs in Hamilton, a number of midweekers put their hands firmly in the air to face the world champions."

Chief over the Chiefs was Exeter's Jack Nowell, who had the press pack drooling into their pints of warm bitter, reflected in the headlines across the media. As the Times purred: Two-try Nowell boosts Lions' momentum, while the Telegraph led on Nowell's double driving the tourists to their first midweek win.

Several others took their bows in a five-star show on a lovely dry, crisp night at the FMG Stadium.

"For the third game in succession the Lions proved a tough nut to crack defensively," said the Guardian. "In addition to the hungry Nowell, a clutch of other players advanced their chances of featuring on the Test bench.

"Elliot Daly's withdrawal in the third quarter - even though he returned late on - suggested he remains a candidate to face the All Blacks while Courtney Lawes and CJ Stander both gave impressively forceful displays up front."

And about time, fellas.

"It would be churlish to point out that this hefty win over the Chiefs was exactly what the Lions really should have achieved when playing the beatable Blues and Highlanders in the previous midweek games."

British and Irish Lions player CJ Stander

British and Irish Lions player CJ Stander Photo: AFP

The man from the Times also thought it a "massive relief that the players who will not appear in the Test squad finally slipped into gear".

Not sure he's got the boss's ear. As the Scotsman reported, Gatland is still pondering his options for Auckland, and beyond.

"We will look at the video tonight and announce the team to the squad tomorrow night. I thought the back three were good and I had told both Nowell and Daly that there were chances for them. You never know what is going to change between the first and third Test."

Granted, the Telegraph said, Glasgow-bound Dave Rennie's second-stringers were "not of the calibre of the other Super Rugby teams they have faced, but the old adage is that you can only beat the opposition put in front of you and the Lions did that with a cracking display".

And according to back-page opinion, the locals are not liking it one bit. The Lions are getting in the Kiwis' ears, their faces and their heads.

The Guardian went so far as to say that "judging by the amount of complaints by Stephen Donald, the Chiefs' captain … to the French referee Jérôme Garcès about Lions players not releasing the ball quickly enough on the floor, this Test series could easily break all records for the sheer volume of ref mic appealing.

"The differences of interpretation between hemispheres show little sign of diminishing on a tour which, increasingly, is proving a clash of rugby styles with no middle ground."

That will be of little concern to Gatland, still measured post-match with Sky Sports, amid the (whisper it) feelgood factor in the press.

"I hope we are peaking at the right time. We always felt that we would get better the longer we spent together. We were more clinical today, we squeezed them, didn't concede any tries and played some good rugby, finished off a few chances."

For the Irish Times it was great craic. Boring, boring Lions indeed!

Mick Reid is an Australian journalist who has called Old Blighty home for too long. A late convert to the oval ball game, he has worked at the past three Rugby World Cups and considers himself a neutral - of sorts.

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