What the Lions can learn from defeat to Auckland Blues
A moment of brilliance sunk the tourists but there's plenty for Warren Gatland to work on before the first Test
The British and Irish Lions lost the second game of their tour of New Zealand when they were beaten 22-16 by the Auckland Blues.
After an underwhelming performance in the first match against the Provincial Barbarians, the defeat against the weakest of New Zealand's Super Rugby franchises was a serious blow to the tourists.
Warren Gatland would have desperately wanted to win at Eden Park because two of the Test matches against the All Blacks will be held there and New Zealand have not lost at the ground since 1994.
Where did it go wrong for the Lions and what can they learn from the defeat?
A moment of brilliance
The deciding score of the game was "an outstanding try that ripped through the heart of the Lions' defence thanks to two glorious offloads and some superb running lines", says Julian Bennetts of the Daily Telegraph.
The try came in the 75th minute shortly after the Lions had taken a 16-15 lead thanks to a Leigh Halfpenny penalty.
First Steven Luatua offloaded to Sonny Bill Williams, who was not to be outdone as he popped the ball up to Ihaia West "who set off for the posts like a startled rabbit", says the New Zealand Herald.
A lack of precision
The Lions can't afford to be as profligate as they have been in the first two games of the tour if they are to have any joy in New Zealand.
West's try "proved the difference as the Lions paid the price for their failure to convert a number of first-half scoring chances," says Robert Kitson of The Guardian.
Bennetts of the Telegraph agrees. "One try having dominated possession and territory in the first half was not enough," he says.
Stephen Jones of The Times was even less impressed. "In truth, this was a more disappointing performance than the opener last Saturday when the tourists only narrowly beat the Provincial Barbarians. The Lions produced some glimpses of far better play but without sustaining anything. In the end, the authority of Courtney Lawes and Maro Itoje at lock and the improved scrum counted for nothing."
Lack of discipline
Allied to that wastefulness in attack was a lack of discipline that could undermine their tour still further.
"The defeat was made near certain when the Lions were penalised when driving forward under the shadow of the home posts – and then confirmed when the Lions had a penalty and a driving line-out in the last phase of the match. Rory Best's throw missed his jumpers and Auckland cleared easily," says Jones.
The Lions gave away 13 penalties in Auckland. If they "don't improve their discipline, they won't beat the All Blacks", says Nik Simon of MailOnline. "The tourists were pinged in almost every aspect of the game except the scrum… The All Blacks may not have the best goal kickers, but they will kick to the corner and, with Beauden Barrett pulling the strings at number ten, [they] will capitalise on most attacking line-outs."
Williams vs Williams
The Lions will have been concerned about the performances of both Sonny Bill and Liam Williams.
Sonny Bill scored one try and set up another. He was "immense in the number 12 jersey and will be entitled to feel disappointed should he not start in the first Test at the same venue on June 24," says the NZ Herald. "It wasn't just his directness on attack, or ability to slip an offload, it was his defence, and efforts in either attempting to snare the ball at the breakdown or to slow its release."
Liam, on the other hand, had a Lions debut to forget. He was introduced early in the second half – after a worrying injury to Jared Payne – and was sent to the sin bin after just ten minutes for two tackles in the air within the space of a few minutes. His contribution did not appear to go down well among the non-Welsh Lions support.
Teams from the southern hemisphere scoff at the north for their approach, but the Lions can take heart from their set piece performance – line-outs excluded.
"The set piece and the driving maul worked brilliantly, but it was almost a cliche of how the southern hemisphere sees the northern game – built on grunt, and lacking in glory," says Bennetts of the Telegraph.
The task now is to add to that bedrock because "behind the scrum there was precisely nothing to shout about".