Suffocated; big time. As a spectacle for any new neutral it would have been dire to watch as it all morphed into something across between the Indian sport of Kabaddi with a lot of American football-type scrimmages mixed in. A tryless, scrappy, bygone borefest one might say, but the ultimate purpose was achieved practically to the letter (letter of the law?) and left many wondering how on earth the Crusaders couldn’t break through for even a solitary try.
Borne out of that surprising statistic you get the feeling from the almost mad-headed way the Crusaders tried throwing the ball around that they thought all they had to do to win was to turn up. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but is it really that far from the truth?
The truth is that the Lions kind of did the same number on the Crusaders that the Cantabrians did on the Hurricanes a few weeks ago. Which is that they suffocated the opponents’ attack by having a perfectly organised and feverishly committed wall of defenders within close proximity of every maul and tackled ball play. Their defensive wall appeared locked together in an almost mortice-like fashion. And by hanging tenuously close to offside for almost the entire game. It was a victory of character and real stoicism though. The brilliantly educated right boots of Murray and Farrell helped enormously of course, but the PA announcer at the final whistle got it absolutely right- it was a gutsy performance. You could throw in backs-to-the wall as well.
You have to give Gatland ten out of ten for laying down the perfect game plan. Did I not say recently that to underestimate him as a coach back on NZ soil would be to do so at our peril. Admittedly the weather played its part in stymieing the Crusaders’ plans for a fast-moving, wide-ranging game, but credit Gatty and his men for adapting to the conditions and keeping things tight. It is surely fair to say they out-smarted Robertson’s team.
And the refereeing? With the way everything happened including the final result, the officiating was always going to fall under the spotlight. Was Reynal a little lax, a bit laissez-faire on numerous breakdown incidents, such as when Itoje plainly interfered with quick Crusaders ball? Let’s leave his performance to the experts- aside from thinking slightly that the Lions might just owe him one even though they would still likely have won, all said and done.
In the selection department, the majority from this match will now have ‘test team’ stamped in large red ink into their passport. The jet lag-afflicted rabble that made the scratch, amateur-laden Baa-baas team from last weekend look like world-beaters will be decidedly on the outer from now. Un-corpus mentis or not, they were diabolical and will struggle to get much at all of a look in for the 24th. Save for Sam Warburton, Alun Wyn-Jones, Ben Te’o and Toby Faletau probably.
And it has to be that way. With the ridiculous intensiveness of this tour, there is not even a nanosecond of time for sentimentality or the like. However, the big grey creature in the room with the long trunk and the floppy ears is Warburton, the appointed tour captain. just how injured is he? The conundrum for Gatland is that Faletau has the number eight position on lockdown and Ireland’s Sean O’Brien is a vastly experienced, superb Rugby athlete who the All Blacks would be glad not to see in the Test team. Though if O’Brien was picked to start in the first XV it would likely be on the blindside, which means the fast scavenger Tupiric from Wales should be the openside. Or alternatively for more strikepower, O’Brien goes on the openside and the powerful ball-carrier CJ Stander is on the blind. Whatever you care to look at it, Warburton seems far from a certainty to start the First Test.
Aaah, who’d be a coach?