Lions must rely on the bludgeon against All Black swordsmen
Tourists grind out a win over the Maori in hope the same tactics pay off against New Zealand
With only one game to go before the Lions take on the mighty All Blacks in the first Test of the series, the tourists' gameplan is becoming ever clearer – and it revolves around defence.
The Lions' successes against Canterbury Crusaders and the Maori All Blacks – the two sides seen as their toughest opponents apart from New Zealand – have been based on forward dominance and suffocation tactics.
On Saturday they powered their way to a 32-10 win over the Maori side with the Lions pack dominating the second half. Referee Jaco Peyper awarded a penalty try to the hosts and lock Maro Itoje added another. The rest of the points came from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.
That game came a day after New Zealand scored 12 tries against Samoa.
"The Maoris offered so little that it is tempting to dismiss them, but the truth is that they were crushed by a very proficient performance from the Lions' pack and a defence that shut down an individually talented set of backs," says Brian Moore of the Daily Telegraph.
"It was reminiscent of the way the Lions neutered the Crusaders, but even more comprehensive.
"Make no mistake, if the Lions can do the same to the All Blacks in the first Test on Saturday they will pose the Kiwis a lot of problems," he adds.
The Maori game offered a "glimpse" of the Lions Test tactics says Stuart Barnes of The Times. It amounts to "a slow steady pressure that leaves the opposing team on their knees".
It's nothing like the All Blacks' preferred brand of rugby, he adds. "New Zealand play rugby like a swordsman, a sequence of swift cuts that you barely see coming. The Lions are neither fast nor skilful enough to draw swords.
"The bludgeon takes longer to finish off an opponent but in powerful hands it can be destructive."
Time will tell if the tactic is successful, but the home side will know what's coming says Paul Rees of The Guardian.
"There will be no attempt to match the offloading, quicksilver game of their opponents and the pressure exerted on [Maori fly half Damian] McKenzie throughout on Saturday was a sign they will look to sabotage the supply line.
"The further back they can push the New Zealand outside-half Beauden Barrett, forcing him to kick in haste rather than strategically or throw passes that are not measured, the more they will defuse the All Blacks. It is one thing to do it to the Maori and another to the team that have sat on top of the world rankings for the last nine years, but the more time Barrett has in possession, the more likely it is that the Lions will lose."
The Lions have another problem. For all their defensive abilities they will need to score tries to win and so far these have proved a rare commodity.
"To beat New Zealand in an international, the Lions will probably need to score three tries," says Owen Slot of The Times. "Since their 2011 World Cup victory, the All Blacks have lost only four matches and the fewest tries-against in those games is three. When Ireland beat them in Chicago in November, they scored five."
The problem for the Lions is preparation time. "With better timing and more practice, you could see the Lions getting to three tries against the All Blacks; maybe, though, that will be in time for the third Test," he warns.