Lions show how not to beat the All Blacks

5:19 pm on 4 June 2017

Yesterday's match showed just what the gulf in class is between the positive and negative ways of playing rugby. The difference between the Crusaders' heart-stopping win over the Highlanders and the British & Irish Lions arm wrestle over the NZ Provincial Barbarians was only a few hours in reality, but might as well have been a few decades for anyone watching.

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The NZ Barbarians take on the Lions in Whangarei. Photo: Twitter / British and Irish Lions

The two southern Super Rugby sides combined for an absolute classic match in a rare afternoon clash in Christchurch. It featured some incredible play, a stunning comeback and thrilling finish that saw the Crusaders win 25-22. Quite simply, if you wanted to make an advertisement for why rugby is a spectator sport, the Crusaders and Highlanders did an 80 minute version for you.

A host of All Blacks stood up and showed why they should be selected, most notably Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty (might be a moot point for the latter as he was carted off injured). One of the rising stars of Super Rugby hammered home one of the best drop goals you'll ever see, let alone to win a game - in fact, Mitch Hunt ought to probably start thinking of a place to live in Auckland because he might just be the man the Blues need to solve their first five problems.

Contrast that to what went down later on in Whangarei. In front of a packed house of 20,000, the long-awaited British & Irish Lions tour finally got underway with a game that featured one try apiece. Which is a bit strange considering the Baa Baa's weren't supposed to get any, eventually going down 13-7.

In fact, the team made up of youngsters and battlers that would've only met each other a couple of weeks ago didn't just score a try, they were winning at half-time.

All off the back of a simplistic game plan that involved one out runners, maximising kick returns and tackling like their lives depended on it. Which is all very laudable, but it doesn't exactly make for a pretty watch.

Especially because the Lions played like they'd just met each other that day. While Ben Te'o and Ross Moriarty could walk off the field knowing they had a good game, the 2017 Lions played a strategy even more simplistic than their opposites and didn't even do a very good job. The lack of cohesion from some of the best players in the UK was pretty staggering, even when taking into account this was their first game together.

Ryan Crotty is tackled by Waisake Naholo.

Ryan Crotty is tackled by Waisake Naholo during the Crusaders game against the Highlanders. Photo: PhotoSport

It's been no secret that the Lions are intending to take the New Zealand sides on up front and try and grind games out. However, if coach Warren Gatland was keeping a close eye on the game earlier in the day, coupled with the evidence that he saw in Whangarei, he would've come to a pretty obvious realisation.

It's not going to work.

If the Lions had played like that against the Crusaders or Highlanders yesterday, they would've got flogged. You can't beat a decent - with all due respect to the NZ Provincial Barbarians - Kiwi side by playing that way. It wasn't just the poor performances of most of the Lions, their attitude was to keep the score low and tackle the opposition into submission. That almost saw them lose in what would've been on of the more embarrassing upsets in history.

So they have a choice: open it up and play like they want to score some tries, or be on the wrong end of a scoreline by teams that do.

And they better make that choice quick, because they'll be playing a side full of much better players at Eden Park on Wednesday.

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