18 May 2017

Lions left out in the cold

5:15 pm on 18 May 2017

Feature - In the lead-up to the 2017 Lions Tour, Matt Richens is looking back at the moments no-one can forget the last time they were here in 2005.

The All Black forward pack get ready for a scrum in the first Test against the Lions in Christchurch in 2005.

The All Black forward pack gets ready for a scrum in the first test against the Lions in Christchurch in 2005. Photo: PhotoSport

2005 - First Test, June 25, Christchurch: All Blacks 21; Lions 3

The All Blacks welcome was colder than the frosty temperatures as the British and Irish Lions were picked apart and shown just how tough a New Zealand tour can be.

It was a bitterly cold June night in Christchurch where the Lions were not only humbled 21-3, but were made to look second rate against a slick ABs, especially at set-piece time.

The circus that is the Lions had rolled into town three weeks earlier and was tracking along well.

They'd beaten Bay of Plenty 34-20, Taranaki 36-14, were beaten by the New Zealand Maori 19-13, but there's no shame in that.

Wins over Wellington (23-6), Otago (30-19) and Southland (26-16) had the touring party - and British media - beating their chests ahead of Test No 1.

That bloated touring party, to recap, involved 44 players initially - Jonny Wilkinson was added later - but 51 players were eventually used. It also included no fewer than 27 support staff, 10 of whom had 'coach' in their title, and test referee David McHugh, the Irishman who was attacked by a South African spectator in 2002, involved as a specialist advisor.

Having already lost Lawrence Dallaglio in the Lions opening match, losing Brian O'Driscoll after 60 seconds did them no favours. Plenty was written about it - too much in fact - but depending what side of the camps you're on, O'Driscoll was unlucky or the All Blacks were thugs.

It would have taken six O'Driscolls to make the Lions competitive and had it not been for the appalling weather - it literally snowed after fulltime - the scoreline would surely have looked worse.

Much like the upcoming series, there was plenty of hype and a belief this was two very well matched sides about to face off.

Lions player Jonny Wilkinson charges ahead during the first test between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions in 2005.

Lions player Jonny Wilkinson charges ahead during the first test. Photo: PhotoSport

Sir Clive Woodward had caused outrage pre-tour when nearly half his squad were English despite them being poor in both the 2004 and 2005 Six Nations. Wales won the Grand Slam in 2005 and contributed just 10 men to the original 44 and 12 of the 51.

He wanted players he knew could do a job - his job - and they'd done it before. Woodward was at the helm for the 2003 World Cup where England's forwards monstered their way around the park giving Wilkinson an easy ride. Woodward wanted more of the same.

He was also in the coach's box when England beat the All Blacks (15-13) in Wellington in 2003, their only win in New Zealand since 1993. So who was he to be doubted?

He picked combinations for the first test which made sense. The loosies were all English while the nine-10 combination were Welsh, forcing Wilkinson out to second five. Woodward knew the All Blacks would target their first five, so he picked Wilkinson at 12 to add to his kicking options.

But the All Blacks saw it all coming and even in the rain were far too good. The Lions were outthought in the coaches' box and outplayed on the field.

The visitors' set-piece, a mainstay of England's success, had been impressive in the warm-up matches without being 100 per cent dominant. But in near sub-zero temperatures in Christchurch, it melted.

Brian O'Driscoll is stretchered off during the first Test between the All Blacks and Lions in Christchurch in 2005.

Brian O'Driscoll is stretchered off the field. Photo: PhotoSport

The All Blacks upset them straight away and while O'Driscoll going off with a dislocated shoulder might be one of the most long-lasting memories of that test, so was the All Blacks scrum annihilating the Lions' eight in the final moments.

Ali Williams was gifted the first try of the test series when, inside their own 22, the Lions threw a line-out and no-one jumped. Clever. Williams barely lifted his arms to take the catch and ran to the line. His unconverted try and two earlier Dan Carter penalties gave the All Blacks an 11-0 half time lead.

The visitors were still in it, though a lot needed to change in the second half if they were to cause an upset. It did change - it got worse.

The Lions' line-out completely self-destructed and they lost 10 off their own throws. Thank you.

All Black fullback Leon Macdonald is tackled by Will Greenwood during the first 2005 Test.

Leon Macdonald - pictured being brought down by Will Greenwood. Photo: PhotoSport

Carter added another penalty shortly after the break. The All Blacks second try - in the 47th minute - was far more razzle dazzle than the first. From a scrum inside their own half, Aaron Mauger made a half break after running right over the top of Lions' first five Stephen Jones. He found a speeding captain Tana Umaga running on his left shoulder with a pop pass who cleared into space.

Tearing up the left wing was Sitiveni Sivivatu playing just his second test. He's scored four on debut against Fiji in North Harbour two weeks earlier then scored his fifth test try courtesy of a huge, accurate pass by Umaga.

Sivivatu turned Josh Lewsey around and scored easily. Carter converted to end the home side's points at 21.

The Lions kicked a penalty, an act that showed they had no belief in winning the game and only wanted to avoid a blob on their scoresheet.

They were outthought, outclassed, outgunned and left broken. Their tour, and all of its high hopes and hype, was ruined in 80 minutes.

Their Plan A was flawed and picked apart and their Plan B was non-existent.

2017 coach Warren Gatland will surely have more Aces up his sleeve than Woodward. If not, they're in big trouble.

The Lions not only lost the match and any momentum they had. O'Driscoll, Richard Hill and Tom Shaklin were all injured and out of the tour while Danny Grewcock was suspended for two months for biting Keven Mealamu.

They headed off Palmerston North for a much needed energiser and towelled up the second division Manawatu Turbos 109-6.

It might have helped some bruised egos and left Woodward with some interesting decisions on who would play the second test, but the game - which may as well have been an opposed training run - did little to prepare them for another All Black onslaught in Wellington. More on that next week.

The 2005 All Blacks perform their haka before taking on the Lions in the first Test.

The 2005 All Blacks perform their haka ahead of the first test against the Lions. Photo: PhotoSport

Who, when and where

Test 1: 25 June, 2005 in Jade Stadium, Christchurch

Crowd: 37,200

All Blacks: 21 (Ali Williams, Sitiveni Sivisatu tries, Dan Carter 3 pens, conv)

Lions: 3 (Wilkinson pen) HT 11-0

All Blacks: Leon MacDonald, Doug Howlett, Tana Umaga (c), Aaron Mauger, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Dan Carter, Justin Marshall, Rodney So'oialo, Richie McCaw, Jerry Collin, Ali Williams, Chris Jack, Carl Hayman, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Res: Derren Witcombe, Greg Sommerville, Jono Gibbes, Sione Lauaki, Byron Kelleher, Rico Gear, Mils Muliaina.

Lions: Jason Robinson (Eng), Josh Lewsey (Eng), Brian O'Driscoll (Ire) (c), Jonny Wilkinson (Eng), Gareth Thomas (Wal), Stephen Jones (Wal), Dwayne Peel (Wal), Martin Corry (Eng), Neil Back (Eng), Richard Hill (Eng), Ben Kay (Eng), Paul O'Connell (Ire), Julian White (Eng), Shane Byrne (Ire), Gethin Jenkins (Wal). Res: Steve Thompson (Eng), Graham Rowntree (Eng), Danny Grewcock (Eng), Ryan Jones (Wal), Matt Dawson (Eng), Will Greenwood (Eng), Shane Horgan (Ire).

Referee: Joël Jutge (Fra), Assistants: Andrew Cole (Aus), Stuart Dickinson (Aus), TMO: Scott Young (Aus)

Matt Richens has been a sports journalist for 11 years. He attributes his premature baldness to the stress of being a sports fan.