The Lions put together their most complete showing of the 2017 NZ tour so far to power past a depleted Chiefs on Tuesday night. Here are our five key takeaways from the 34-6 rout at FMG Stadium Waikato, Hamilton.
Lions look primed for opening Test
The All Blacks await on Saturday night in Auckland, and the Lions will head into it with form behind them.
Against the Chiefs the visitors had a ruthless edge to their defence which meant they were never really under pressure near their line, and importantly it forced opposition errors inside their own half, which then transferred to scoring opportunities for the Lions on several occasions.
Their attack was free-flowing and cohesive – nothing like what we had seen in their five NZ tour games up until the Hamilton match – and it resulted in three classy tries along with a penalty try.
While their standard of play still appears to be a long way off that of the All Blacks, coach Warren Gatland will take comfort from the fact that his side is starting to play their best rugby at the right time.
Smothering defence the key to win
While the four tries and 34 points on the board will suggest attack was the feature of the victory for the Lions, it was their defence which set the platform in the Waikato.
Urgency at the breakdown and an organised approach meant the Chiefs hardly got to fire a shot in attacking territory, while the Lions also went hunting for turnovers with success, forcing 22 across the 80 minutes.
Line speed was once again a positive for the visitors as well.
Captain Rory Best said the defensive attitude was summarised by his side’s desire to keep the Chiefs out in the dying minutes, even though the result had been secured long before.
“It showed with the last five minutes what it meant to us to be ahead by a bit and still not allow them to cross the line, and they are a very strong attacking unit,” he said.
— Jim Locke (@zedsdead23) June 20, 2017
While his counterpart Stephen Donald admitted the Lions’ defensive effort had thwarted the game-plan of the hosts.
“I thought they were excellent, full credit to them, they suffocated us and then scored some great tries,” Donald said.
“We had a couple of things that we wanted to try, but their defence was too good for us tonight.”
#CHIvBIL your whole tight five constantly hunt for the turnover.. the front rowers making cover tackles.. Thats pretty special
— Venom LOM (@VNMSFlow) June 20, 2017
Depleted Chiefs always up against it
The Chiefs were severely down on troops on Tuesday night, and it showed.
Without their All Black contingent of Brodie Retallick, Nathan Harris, Sam Cane, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Aaron Cruden, Anton Lienert-Brown the Chiefs were always going to struggle.
Compound that with the absence of Kane Hames, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe, Damian McKenzie and Tawera Kerr-Barlow, who were all involved for the Maori All Blacks in last Saturday’s defeat to the Lions, and it’s little wonder the Chiefs had to use all the depth they had at their disposal for the mid-week meeting with the tourists.
The result was an almost unrecognisable line-up, and one which couldn’t handle the experience or class of the Lions.
Only two of the Chief’s starting side – Stephen Donald (100) and Tim Nana-Williams (82) – boasted more than 25 caps for the side, while four of the starters and nine of the entire squad had appeared less than 10 times for the franchise.
“Very proud of the young boys… we had a lot out, but there’s no excuses,” Donald said.
Roaring at lineout causes drama
The Lions continued their trend of talking it up at lineout time, making as much noise as possible as the Chiefs attempted their throws, and it got the desired result as they caused confusion and errors.
On three occasions the visitors won lineouts after the Chiefs threw wayward balls, which appeared to spawn from communication struggles, with one on the hour mark leading directly to a Jack Nowell try less than a minute later.
The tactic is a polarizing issue, with many believing it spits in the face of sportsmanship, while others conclude it’s simply part of the game at any level.
— // RYAN // (@ryan_whiteman) June 20, 2017
Lions yelling at Chiefs lineout to disrupt the call! Not on 😡
— Nikki Tolich (@nikki_tolich) June 20, 2017
Whatever the case it isn’t breaking any rules and it’s bearing fruit for the Lions. The All Blacks would be well-advised to practice their hand signals ahead of Saturday night.
Nowell adds to wing riches
The Lions were already well stocked on the wings, with the experienced George North starring on both sides of the ball in earlier tour matches to presumably make himself a lock for one of the positions come Test time.
Fellow wide men Elliot Daly and Tommy Seymour have also shown themselves to be contenders, and following the Chief’s match Gatland can add Jack Nowell as a genuine option.
The Exeter Chief’s man scored a double at FMG Stadium Waikato and was heavily involved throughout the encounter.
His opening five-pointer showed a clever rugby brain and urgency to dive over from a pick and roll, while he displayed nice athletic ability on his second just before the hour mark.
The 24-year-old finished the game with 56 run metres and two clean breaks, doing his hopes of a Test call-up down the track no harm at all.