Saturday, June 04, 2005

Lions Of Plenty?

Given that I got up ridiculously early to watch the match this morning, I figure I may as well try to get some mileage out of covering the Lions tour. Unfortunately I was too lazy to roll out of bed for 8:10, and so I missed the first ten minutes of the match. By all accounts, these ten minutes were the best rugby the Lions played all game. It was, however, nice to see the Lions 17-0 up on my arrival.

Thereafter, the Bay of Plenty put them under a fair amount of pressure - in particular, the front five of the Lions looked pretty weak and we always seemed to be under pressure in the breakdown. Although I'd previously tipped Gethin Jenkins for a starting place in the team, I think he'll have to show a fair bit more if he's to secure that berth. The rest of the front row will be different, and whilst O'Connell should start at lock if fit, it's difficult to say who his partner will be. There were too many turnovers and quite a lot of scrappy ball, and you need to be better in the tight to beat the All Blacks.

That said, the really pleasing aspect of the game was the performance of Richard Hill. He seemed to be back on his way to full form - which is to say, head and shoulders above the rest of the number 6's in the world. If he is fit, he is a lock for the side. It was disappointing to see Dallaglio go, although I wonder whether he would have been capable of playing at the highest level again, but Williams and Corry had good games and I fully expect them to be starting in a few weeks time, injury permitting.

As for the backs, a lot of my thoughts about Gavin Henson were confirmed. He's a solid tackler, and can make a nice break, but he's not so good at following it up, and his passing and link play leaves a lot to be desired. I don't think he's a Woodward-style player, and D'Arcy or maybe even Shanklin could make the number 12 jersey. O'Gara has counted himself out of the Test side with a woeful tackling display, although his tactical kicking was impressive. O'Driscoll and Lewsey showed why they are class acts - their play was a joy to behold when running forward, and if the Lions Test side have that sort of tactical ingenuity they will be a force to be reckoned with. Defensively there were clear problems, but those can be sorted out with time. Such is the nature of the modern game that defensive systems are of necessity more complicated, and throwing together a side in the way the Lions do does cause severe problems for any coach.

So, a lot to be pleased about, but some areas that really need working on. Not too surprising for the first match of a Lions tour.