Lions find defensive steel but must unleash 'rugby chaos'
Victory over the Crusaders proves the tourists are coming together, but the attack is a cause for concern
The British and Irish Lions laid down a marker on their tour of New Zealand by beating the mighty Canterbury Crusaders on Saturday and restricting the free-scoring Super Rugby outfit boasting eight All Blacks to just three points.
The Lions were mighty in defence. Despite plaudits for that aspect of their game there are still concerns about their attacking verve with less than a fortnight to go before the first Test.
On Saturday all 12 of the Lions points came from the boot of Owen Farrell. All eyes will be on their offensive combinations when they take on the Highlanders on Tuesday morning.
But there are huge positives to take from victory over the Crusaders, who were unbeaten this year. It is also the first time the New Zealand side has failed to score a try for two seasons.
"Defence shows the character of a team, how they are connecting, how they are respecting each other and that was what we saw from the Lions in Christchurch. It was a sign that things are clicking off the field. And without that, you can't do much," says former Lions and All Blacks coach Graham Henry in the Daily Telegraph.
There were individual performances to applaud as well. Anthony Watson, brought on as a makeshift full back after injury to Stuart Hogg, was excellent, and so were Farrell and scrum half Conor Murray.
"Farrell and Murray helped the Lions to rise a few levels above their opening two performances, controlling both the pace and the shape of the match. The tourists may not have scored a try, and their count of two in three matches will have to rise in the next two weeks, but they created more openings than the leading team in Super Rugby without trying to mimic their offloading game," says Paul Rees of The Guardian.
The All Blacks would have taken note of the performance and in particular the strength of the Lions's set piece. But while they will recognise that the Lions are gelling into a powerful unit who will not be rolled over, they will not be fearful of their attacking prowess amid continued barbs about coach Warren Gatland's approach.
Gatland must work on that, says Stuart Barnes of The Times. "Risk is the key word. The Lions have to find players capable of punishing the All Blacks if their aggressive defence can pressurise New Zealand into kicking errors. Counterattacking isn't a glittering extra to their plan, it should be at its heart.
"The Lions have to find a key to the 'rugby chaos' promised by Rob Howley, a key to scoring the necessary tries to give their rearguard a realistic total to defend," says Barnes.