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Analysis: Big moments decide big games and the Lions came up short

The tourists’ inability to finish chances early in the first half was pivotal in the first Test.

43:25 ON THE clock and the Lions have just torn the All Blacks to shreds on the counter attack, with Liam Williams, Jonathan Davies, Conor Murray and Anthony Watson combining down the left, before a short carry from Watson.

The ball has been shifted back to the right by Murray and Owen Farrell and as it arrives in Ben Te’o's hands, the opportunity is clear.

The All Blacks are on the ropes here, leading 13-8 but having been cut open.

They are vulnerable, scrambling. The Lions simply have to force their foot fully down on the Kiwi throats, but they miss their chance.

Chance

While the overlap on the right is not a huge numbers-up one, the opportunity is blatantly clear.

If Te’o can pass the ball in this instance, Sean O’Brien and Taulupe Faletau are odds-on favourites to finish a try.

Chance

O’Brien and Faletau have held their width in a disciplined fashion and it’s quite clear that Jerome Kaino is going to struggle to get across to O’Brien if Te’o can hit the Ireland flanker with the pass.

In that case, O’Brien is left in a situation where he can draw Sonny Bill Williams onto himself and free Faletau in the corner, or sell a dummy to Williams and use his power to get outside and beyond Kaino to score.

Instead, Te’o opts to carry the ball himself and slips as he looks to step back to the inside of Brodie Retallick, killing the chance in a split second.

Step

It’s not clear whether this is a technical issue in Te’o's game – in that he doesn’t trust himself to make the 12-metre pass – or simply a poor decision, but what is clear is the frustration of Faletau on the outside edge.

Faletau

As we see above, the Lions number eight claps his hands in exasperation at the ball not having been sent his way.

Te’o had an excellent game for the Lions in midfield, making the kind of physical impact that many of his team-mates did not, but he is likely to reflect on this as a major missed chance.

Against a team as excellent as the All Blacks, opportunities as good as this simply don’t come around often and it’s a massive moment in the game.

Flip the situation on its head and ask if the All Blacks would have scored in this situation. There are no 100% certainties, but we can safely say that the Kiwis would have finished here 95 times out of 100, either by passing the ball to space or even by kick passing from first receiver to the man on the outside edge.

The Lions, however, could not find a solution having done the hard work to create the space for themselves. Most worryingly, this has been a constant theme on this tour of New Zealand and it’s not only Te’o who has been culpable in this department.

The Lions are playing a penalty advantage in the instance above, and even when they kick into the corner, they lack the killer edge required.

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Lions

They go for an extremely direct version of the driven maul, with Peter O’Mahony not even jumping at the front, instead taking the ball standing before receiver Mako Vunipola – the Lions have been using him in this role frequently – hammers into him in a bid to gain instant momentum towards the tryline before the All Blacks can counter.

While the Lions had gripes about the All Blacks’ illegal sacking in certain mauls in this game, it appears that Faletau is the first to go to deck in this instance, as the Lions’ attempt to generate rapid force appears to count against them.

Deck

With the ball up in the air, referee Jaco Peyper is happy for the All Blacks to snatch it for the turnover and even though O’Brien manages to grab possession back for the Lions a phase later, they contrive to produce another error with pressure on the Kiwis.

This time it’s rather unfortunate as Murray knocks on when Tadhg Furlong’s foot makes contact with the ball just as the scrum-half is scooping it off the deck.

TO

It’s an unlucky error, but again it underlines how the Lions let their foot off the All Blacks’ throats in these crucial minutes of the game, after their stunning kick return try before half time had given them a lifeline.

That try through O’Brien showed the potential quality of this Lions team, but they have been far too profligate in instances like the one above on this tour.

Even after the All Blacks kick out of their 22 following Murray’s knock on at the base of the ruck, the Lions get another opportunity to apply real pressure as their kick return – such a positive in this game – comes up good again.

Watson

Watson picks a brilliant line off fullback Williams to beat Sam Whitelock, before he steps inside both Sam Cane and Aaron Smith wonderfully.

But once again, just as the Lions enter the All Blacks’ 22, there is a poor decision as Watson throws an offload to an unprepared Conor Murray, who is attempting to leap over tackler Retallick.

The ball goes forward and once again the Lions leave empty handed, having had the All Blacks exposed in an area of the pitch they struggled to spend large amounts of time in.

In truth, these minutes just after half time were the key period of the game for the Lions. Their wonder try had kept them in a game the All Blacks had largely dominated with their clever and brutal attacking game plan, and this was the one chance Gatland’s side had to make the Kiwis doubt themselves.

The next time the Lions got back to this area of the field, the game was well and truly over at 23-8.

Though Gatland’s side showed with the O’Brien try that they can be clinical once in behind, they have also consistently demonstrated an ability to spurn excellent try-scoring opportunities on this tour.

If they’re going to beat the best team in the world, they need to rapidly discover an ability to convert as regularly as the All Blacks do.

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Murray Kinsella

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