26 Jun

Lions first test — heroes v zeroes.
by Rick Boyd
26 Jun 2005

There are a couple of notably good things to come out of the first Lions-All Black test 2005.

First, let’s not neglect to mention that it was a win, and a good win — 21-3 to the All Blacks.

Second, how heartening was it for the average All Black fan to see the New Zealand national team playing good, hard, consistent rugby from a strong forward platform? Well, bloody heartening, I can tell you.

But let’s not get carried away. What we’re after here is the long haul, an actual winning season — and what a season it is. The British lions, the Tri Nations and a Grand Slam. And to do that we not only need quality, we need consistent quality; and that’s where the All Blacks have fallen down in recent years.

And it wasn’t all sunshine and wine gums in this game. For a start, sunshine was a bit unlikely as it was played at some bloody silly hour of the night for the convenience of a nation of fat, lazy poms and other sundry inhabitants of Britannia and Hibernia. Let the useless sods get out of bed at 3 am like real men used to when called upon to watch black and white TV broadcasts from Cardiff Arms Park in days of yawn.

Added to that was fairly copius amounts of finest Canterbury mositure descending from the heavens at various rates of knots and in two of its naturally occuring states — all three, actually, once it hit overheated bodies in soggy rugby jerseys.

I didn’t believe Honest Graham’s proclamations of a ten man game Due to Forecast Rain any more than the next hardened cynic. But playing open, running rugby with horizontal sleet in your face and a ball — even one developed by NASA with a textured vinyl casing designed to stick like superglue to teflon — like the proverbial bar of Lifebouy, is not the idea situation and is unlikely to achieve big Super 12 scores, however noble the intention.

A short round of applause to the All Blacks though, they did a damned good job of it in the circumstances, and were maybe a tad unlucky not to have a couple more tries to their name. Let’s hope for some fine weather at Wellington — all right, you may laugh — and see what they’re really made of.

So, in the face of it, a 21-3 win in shipwreck weather should be worth the odd Speights or 19, right?

Like I say, let’s not get carried away. There is always the temptation to ascribe any win to the qualities of the winning team and forget that there was another side on the paddock contributing to proceedings. And contribute the British and Irish Lions did — mostly by taking a careful aim at the foot region and letting go with both barrels.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Lions team play so poorly. It was a puzzling, and really rather sad, sight. Did any of them really want to be out there? They looked like a very unhappy team with deep internal divisions who didn’t want to play together and made an extremely poor job of the attempt. Did they have a plan? What was it?

I know they had one plan, a Cunning Plan My Lord, fielded once or 17 times by Sir Clive Would-would of Greater Whingeing, which mainly involves cheating like buggery, killing the ball whenever possible and slowing play down so a raft of elderly poms can keep up with play.

Well, bad news, it didn’t work.

Were there any other plans? Their lineouts made the All Blacks’ lineouts of Bledisloe Cup games in the early noughties look accurate, efficient and rock solid. Their scrum, supposedly a demonstration of how the northern hemisphere is leading the rugby world in rugby forwards basic, was barely able to tread water. Their kicking game was a travesty and they never looked remotely like scoring a try.

So all in all, they didn’t provide much competition and the All Blacks shouldn’t put too much store in the way this game was won. They’re unlikely to face such crappy opposition in red jerseys again any time soon. I hope.

Still, a good solid performance from the All Blacks forwards in most departments. All the tight five did the business, with a special mention to Chris Jack, and not too shabby by Ali Williams either.

The loose forwards did all that could be expected of them without being utterly God-like, and Richie McCaw, THE MAN, didn’t get hit in the head more than necessary.

Thanks and So Long to Justin Marshall, who played well without dominating the game as he has done on occasion. Daniel Carter, apart from a plethora of idiot charged-down kicks, kept up to standard. Mauger also looked steady in trying conditions, and made a pleasing half-break to set up Sivivatu’s try. Umaga in good form, one dazzling break, one superb lob pass, and lots of solid defence — and all the back three performed creditably in weather more suited to freezing inactive wings and fullbacks into blue, shivering sculptures while the forwards form barely mobile steam-lodges somewhere beyond the curtain of rain. Howlett looked to be trying too hard to redeem himself, running the ball when it was never really on.

We don’t want to damn the All Blacks with faint praise, considering the conditions, but on the other hand, we don’t want to give them delusions of grandeur, considering the opposition.

Battle has commenced, the victory of the first engagement is ours to savour, but it is only the end of the beginning. Wear your laurels proudly, All Blacks, because you deserve them: but don’t rest on them. There’s a couple more lions heads to go on the trophy room wall yet.

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