Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

To Stop Another Heavenly All Blacks Display, Hard Men Must Drag Them into Hell

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

To Stop Another Heavenly All Blacks Display, Hard Men Must Drag Them into Hell

Article excerpt

Byline: David Flatman

HOW to solve a problem like the All Blacks. Whatever the solution if there even is one it seems likely to involve extended periods of tank-emptying effort. Certainly, the areas in which many predicted the Lions would dominate became weaknesses, as the lineout maul produced very little and the scrum was mullered.

Without wishing to display that most unappealing of behaviours postevent wisdom it did seem unusual to start the First Test with Mako Vunipola and to bench Jack McGrath.

Vunipola is a magnificent player but, of the two, he is by a mile more likely to impact a match over half an hour than his Irish mate. Clearly, at loosehead prop at least, Warren Gatland chose to play the best player from the start which, ultimately, seems reasonable.

However, it was clear that, as the final quarter developed, the New Zealand heavies had more juice in their legs. There are ways to augment their fatigue but we'll get to that in a minute.

One reason the set piece is so important is that it presents the cleanest opportunity both to exhaust the opposition and to create forward momentum. Get your set piece right and the opposition are immediately working harder than you, having to run backwards and around to affect a breakdown or to tackle a ball carrier. Add to this the psychological advantage gained by a dominant forward pack and it becomes vital.

The New Zealand scrum did a fantastic job. This is not the world's most powerful scrum but it is a very clever and a very fit one. In fact, their scrum, along with some deft handiwork from Kieran Reid, created a try from its very base. But how? Many people talk about international rugby being a level above European rugby in terms of pace but this First Test seemed a level above the international game known to many of these Lions. This is not an insult; the Lions are incredibly fit and strong. It is merely an observation that, in brutal terms, they were run to pieces.

So relentless and so accurate was the All Blacks' close-quarter carrying, footwork and handling that the Lions barely had a chance to breathe. …

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