25 Jun 2017

Assassin’s creed brings down Lions

8:05 am on 25 June 2017

Some good moments, one of the great ones, but nowhere near good enough, writes Michael Reid*.

Lion's Anthony Watson is tackled by All Blacks Codie Taylor during the All Blacks vs British and Irish Lions at Eden Park.

Lion's Anthony Watson is tackled by All Blacks Codie Taylor during the All Blacks vs British and Irish Lions at Eden Park. Photo: Photosport

They took this pretty hard, notwithstanding the Lions scoring one of the most scintillating tries of the modern era and at times eclipsing their hosts for adventure.

In the sluicing rain in Auckland, Warren Gatland's men, opined the press gang, were bested and beasted at the breakdown and given a master-class in finishing.

This was the All Blacks, led from the front by the superhuman Kieran Read, "that every Lions supporter had feared", said the BBC Online.

The Telegraph also had it as the stuff of nightmares. "The Lions have left tries out there right throughout the tour. The All Blacks, by contrast, delivered, the man in black with the cold-eyed ability of the assassin. One shot is all that they need."

Its man was truly spooked. "You compete, you contest, but you are simply blown away by the clinical execution of the opposition."

The Observer's, too. "If the Lions were under any illusions as to how hard it is to upset their opponents in their own backyard, here was yet another reminder."

There were attempts to find good amid the bad in the 30-15 defeat. The Guardian correspondent at Eden Park had the Lions "far more competitive than the final margin might suggest", while noting New Zealand was never once behind on the scoreboard.

The Scotsman followed suit, and had the home team holding firm in the face of some outstanding rugby by the Lions.

"At times, New Zealand's speed, awareness and attacking running lines were off the scale, yet the Lions lived with them for much of a memorable encounter.

"[Liam] Williams and his Wales colleague Jonathan Davies were at the attacking heart of thrilling Lions adventure, yet the forwards were given a sometimes torrid time in the scrums, and the All Blacks finished far stronger."

It was the Lions who produced some of the game's best rugby, said the Independent, as demonstrated by THAT try, "an end-to-end move triggered by Williams and added to by [Elliot] Daly and Davies before culminating in [Sean] O'Brien's touch down."

A bloody bewdy, thought the Telegraph, which likened it to the style of the 1973 Barbarians. Praise indeed.

What most agreed on, however, was the surprise nature of the All Blacks' victory, the result of a fast, direct style of play, expected to be the preserve of their opponents. This was not in the script.

"In a match which made a mockery of rugby stereotypes, Warren Gatland's side illuminated this thunderous first test with counter-attacking brilliance, but they were emphatically over-powered by the world champions."

Sean O'Brien scores the Lions' first try.

Sean O'Brien scores the Lions' first try. Photo: PhotoSport

Gatland doesn't do overreaction. He told Sky Sports he was disappointed by his side's inability to capitalise on their "golden moments" but thought the lapses were "fixable" for the second test.

And as they hit the frog for the capital, first for Tuesday's match against the Hurricanes, the Lions will take some solace from being able to hang their clothes in the same wardrobe for a full week.

The coach will be hoping this luxury will help his troupe reproduce more of the brio epitomized by the Williams-inspired try: finishing flair, perhaps with more emphasis on the finishing.

But history suggests this might be a bit of a stretch. Only once have the Lions won a series in New Zealand, and never having lost the first match.

With the world champions in this kind of form, might be time for us neutrals to slap a bob or two on the men in black.

*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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