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Dublin: 18 °C Friday 22 June, 2018

Analysis: The key areas for the Lions if they are to win in Wellington

We’ve looked at the areas where Warren Gatland’s side need to be better against the All Blacks.

Murray Kinsella reports from Wellington

THE BUILD-UP has been dominated by more bitching, controversy and clowning around but we are finally on the eve of the Lions’ second Test and what promises to be one of the great rugby games [KO 8.35am Irish time tomorrow, Sky Sports].

We’ve taken a look at some of the key areas for the Lions if they are to pull off a shock and level the series heading into the final Test in Auckland.

Get a breakdown grip

One of the absolute priorities for the Lions is slowing down the pace of the All Blacks’ attack and that will come through targeting the breakdown.

In the first Test, the All Blacks were consistently able to get what they term ‘lighting-quick ball,’ which refers to rucks lasting less than three seconds.

We’ve analysed how the speed of that ball meant the Lions’ defence struggled to get set in good positions to make dominant tackles, and therefore saw them give up more and more gainline as the phases ticked by.

Sam Warburton has been picked by Gatland to lead the breakdown battle and it is certainly an area in which he excels.


We get an example in the second half of the first Test above, with Warburton clamping over the ball and greatly slowing down the All Blacks’ ruck, giving his team-mates valuable time to get set in defence.

Even when Warburton isn’t the man directly over the ball looking for the turnover himself, he is highly influential around the breakdown.

Below, we see an example in the game against the Provincial Barbarians as Rory Best wins a clean turnover.


While it’s Best who steals the ball, note Warburton’s actions.

He clamps himself around the Ireland hooker, anchoring Best as he fishes for the ball.


Best’s right knee actually goes to ground here and it should really be a penalty the other way for that reason, but Warburton’s aid helps the Ulsterman to get back to his feet instantly and he finishes the job.

Warburton regularly produces these kind of breakdown assists and he is a real pest around the tackle, as we see below.


Again, it’s Best who wins the turnover but note the actions of Warburton.

The tackle is made on his inside and as he is retreating, he runs across the tackle and gets a subtle block in on one of the arriving Barbarians players, just closing off his access to the breakdown for long enough to give Best a shot.


It’s clever stuff from Warburton and we can see that Johnny Sexton does the same thing over on the other side of the tackle, meaning Best has time to get back to his feet and pilfer the ball.

With the Lions zoning in on the breakdown tomorrow, Warburton will be a key figure but it might be that his subtle work allows others, like Sean O’Brien, to make the glory steals.

Find the grass

One thing the Lions struggled for in the first Test was good field position. That was partly due to their handling errors when they got into the All Blacks’ half, but it was also a reflection of their kicking game.

Conor Murray launched the kind of contestable box kicks we had anticipated and the Lions had real success over Ben Smith in the first half, so we can certainly expect to see them test fullback Israel Dagg and wings Rieko Ioane and Waisake Naholo in that manner.

However, they are also likely to look for grass with their kicking game, sending the ball deeper into All Blacks’ backfield.


Owen Farrell does as much in the instance above, early in the first Test. While the All Blacks are able to get back and Israel Dagg then produces a big touchfinder, the Lions get the ball again with a lineout near the halfway line.

It’s an economical way of gaining territory, but the Lions didn’t pursue these tactics much again in that first Test.

With Johnny Sexton at out-half and Owen Farrell shifting to inside centre, we can expect more of this type of kicking from the Lions.


Sexton is a particularly good tactical kicker, as we see in the example above against the Maori All Blacks, so he is sure to be a vital figure.

While Naholo and Ioane are both devastating attacking players, they are not as comfortable when the ball is kicked in behind them. The Lions will have to be as wary of loose kicking against the Kiwis’ counter-attacking quality as ever, but they are likely to test Naholo and Ioane by turning them.

With the weather set to be wet and windy tomorrow, expect lots of kicking. The Lions ended up kicking only 19 times in the first Test, down on their tour average of 25, but that figure should rise in Wellington.

Make some hits

For Andy Farrell’s defence, this is about as basic as it gets. They will need to bring fierce aggression into the tackle and regularly produce the kind of hits that were lacking in the first Test.

As we discussed earlier in the week, there was far too much passive tackling from the Lions around the fringes of the rucks, where the All Blacks got major gains.

Shoring up that area of their defence has been the key focus for Farrell this week, so expect to see players working incredibly hard to fill those tight spaces early, communicate and come forward aggressively.


Maro Itoje’s presence in the starting XV will be a boost defensively, with the England lock being an excellent tackler.

Even thought he came off the bench last week, he was one of the few players to make dominant tackles – as we see above.

Expect to see the Saracens man leading the way as the Lions look for these momentum-swinging moments of contact.

Barrett’s influence

While the first Test head injury for Ben Smith was obviously damaging and concerning, and means his series is over, the All Blacks had a pretty decent replacement fullback in Beauden Barrett.

That said, it did deprive them of the best out-half in the world for a large part of the game and that has to be viewed as a let-off for the Lions – even if Aaron Cruden is all class.

Back at out-half for the second Test, we can expect to see more of Barrett’s attacking arsenal, particularly with the Lions likely to be narrower in defence as they seek to address their issues around the fringes.


The Lions had expected more attacking kicks like the one above from Barrett in the first Test, but it wasn’t a tactic the All Blacks pursued greatly.

Anthony Watson superbly diffuses the danger in the instance above, calling the mark after an excellent leap and catch, and the Lions’ back three will be anticipating a lot more kicks of this kind from Barrett in the second Test.

Naholo is particularly excellent at timing his runs onto cross-field kick passes, grubbers and chips and he will be looking to get on the end of Barrett’s creative skills.

Brace the maul

The Lions have major pride to restore at scrum time after being shunted backwards by the All Blacks in the build-up to Ioane’s first try last weekend, but as important is getting their maul firing.

As we discussed previously, there was a costly five-metre maul failing for Gatland’s men early in the second half when they had the All Blacks under pressure, and it was generally an area of disappointment for the tourists.


The All Blacks had success with their sacking of the Lions at lineout time, as we see in the example above, with Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock tackling Alun Wyn Jones to the ground as he lands from his jump.

The Lions did have issues with the refereeing of this area, arguing that the maul had already been formed in several instances. With Jerome Garces taking over from Jaco Peyper as referee for the second Test, they will be hoping for a more favourable interpretation.

But the Lions absolutely must get their maul motoring at Westpac Stadium, where it could be a major weapon against the Kiwis.

Keep countering

Gatland’s side produced one of the all-time great Lions tries in the first Test and it was indicative of the success they had on counter attack.

With Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Watson in the back three again, we should expect the Lions to pursue this ambitious mindset in the second Test.


Williams makes a good decision to counter here, clocking that a possible kick would be in danger of a blockdown and also acknowledging that the fast-advancing Read is isolated.


The footwork is outstanding and suddenly Williams understands his opportunity as he backs himself to get outside Cruden.

The Lions fullback intelligently transfers the ball over to his left hand so he can fend Cruden.


Williams also benefits from the clever work of Ben Te’o ahead of him, with the inside centre retreating and getting in a block on Sonny Bill Williams as the All Blacks midfielder attempts to turn in and tackle.


Once in behind, the Lions are ruthless in a way that has eluded them too often on this tour.


The support play and work-rate from Jonathan Davies, Daly and O’Brien is sensational here and this is the templated for the Lions coming into the second Test.

If they are to pull this second Test victory off, they simply must take every chance they create.


With the All Blacks set to be a more cohesive unit in their third Test of the year, this task simply looks too great for the Lions.

While they should be notably more aggressive in contact and will hope to have greater set-piece success, the All Blacks are capable of making decisions and executing on them accurately at a far greater speed than the Lions have shown they can react.

Even with the weather set to be poor, Steve Hansen’s side are sure to score tries and for that reason we’re suggesting a New Zealand win on a scoreline of 28-15.

All Blacks:

15. Israel Dagg
14. Waisake Naholo
13. Anton Lienert-Brown
12. Sonny Bill Williams
11. Rieko Ioane
10. Beauden Barrett
9. Aaron Smith

1. Joe Moody
2. Codie Taylor
3. Owen Franks
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Samuel Whitelock
6. Jerome Kaino
7. Sam Cane
8. Kieran Read (captain)


16. Nathan Harris
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Charlie Faumuina
19. Scott Barrett
20. Ardie Savea
21. TJ Perenara
22. Aaron Cruden
23. Ngani Laumape


15. Liam Williams
14. Anthony Watson
13. Jonathan Davies
12. Owen Farrell
11. Elliot Daly
10. Johnny Sexton
9. Conor Murray

1. Mako Vunipola
2. Jamie George
3. Tadhg Furlong
4. Maro Itoje
5. Alun Wyn Jones
6. Sam Warburton (captain)
7. Sean O’Brien
8. Taulupe Faletau


16. Ken Owens
17. Jack McGrath
18. Kyle Sinckler
19. Courtney Lawes
20. CJ Stander
21. Rhys Webb
22. Ben Te’o
23. Jack Nowell

Referee: Jerome Garces [FFR].

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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