Some would say that two outta three aint bad? But two out of four? Well, now that is different story… here we are two games away from the first test, and the Lions have got a lot to prove in those games to ensure that they go up against New Zealand feeling anything like a degree of confidence next Saturday.
You might be reading this right now watching the Maori All Blacks game, saying “Phil it’s fine, we’ve come good” and I really hope that’s the case, the team going out today look strong, Farrell will be missed for sure, but Johnny Sexton has supposedly got his mojo back, and he has a good reliable boot (as long as the referee doesn’t move any kicks back another three metres, but the less said about that the better…) and with the additional kicking-support of Leigh Halfpenny, who has really got to prove his worth with the boot to hold a position in the squad, the absence of Farrell should be fairly well mitigated. Sexton technically is probably one of the best all round half backs in the world right now, and with Connor Murray playing alongside him, he should be feeling comfortable, so there is no reason not to be confident here.
Vunipola is immense at the moment and his carrying ability is well up there with that of Billy and if we are going to try and bully the Maori off the pitch, then he’ll be instrumental in moving forwards. In fact the pack are looking very tasty, and with the majority not only being made up of English players, but also club comrades, they’ll know how to react to one another when the going gets tough. It’s probably looking like the first peep behind the curtain as to what the pack might be when we come up against the All Blacks proper. Vunipola, George, Kruis and Itoje will all be looking to have a statement game to rubber stamp their name on the squad list come Saturday 24th.
What will be interesting to see in this game is how Peter O’Mahony will steer the ship today, and whether he can prove the leadership, and cool head required to control the penalty count and ensure that we’re not losing games to discipline. There is nothing more frustrating for either player or spectator to lose a game to discipline; controlling the game and winning by three is far greater reward than trying to bury your opponent and coming undone at the mercy of the opposition boot.
The boys have a lot to take forward from the Highlanders banana skin on Tuesday where they did show the necessary physicality, distribution and technical thinking to make a good fist of proceedings, but going back to my previous paragraph; if that penalty count had sat level or even just one less for the Lions, then they would have been walking away from that one, brimming with confidence for today.
The one thing that is getting me down at the moment, is the degree of expectation that is being placed on the Lions shoulders, and the requirement for them to be able to interact and perform like a professional international outfit from day one. What we have to remember here is that there is an amateur ethos to the lions and there is a certain tradition, of taking the best of British and Irish and showcasing that ability around the world in a modest and humble way, otherwise you end up with a lose, lose situation. You don’t want to be the bunch of guys that come over, wipe the floor with the opposition and have that air of invincibility about you that the hosts just want to despise you for, but you also don’t want to be the walkover team that makes the Northern Hemisphere look weak. Essentially “you’re damned if you do and, you’re damned if you don’t.”
If the Lions can improve their win rate, take a couple of great games to the worlds best team and manage to do so whilst leaving a footprint that makes great memories for both sides, then that is what I see it as being about. Don’t get me wrong though. I still want the win, I always want the win!
Have a great weekend, the sun is out, so get your BBQ uniform on and enjoy.