Tuesday 27th June - 21:15
I managed to get through the day without finding out the result. I am so glad I did as it was another cracking game of rugby. Yet again as an advert for our great game it hit the mark. The result was disappointing and for me the big question is why bother bringing guys into the squad and then have them sit on their backside for two games watching starters struggle with fatigue late on. It simply doesn't make sense and it definitely helped the Hurricanes get back into the game.
This was the final audition for test places and whilst no-one played badly no-one screamed 'pick me, pick me'. Much is being said about Courtney Lawes' performance but in my opinion it wasn't strong enough. In fact I felt he was eclipsed by Iain Henderson who had a fine game. Fine, except for one rush of blood to the head when he quite rightly saw yellow. Henderson is possibly the only player that is troubling the selectors thoughts at the moment. Paddy O'Fez has been in touch and in a very round-about way accused me of bias in favour of the Welsh. Well Comrade you'll be delighted to know that I thought Dan Biggar played really well and if it wasn't for Sexton and Farrell ahead of him he could be in the reckoning. As expected Tipuric did nothing wrong and George North stepped up to the plate and did a solid job at inside centre after the early inury to Henshaw. It wasn't enough to earn a bench spot but well done George. CJ Stander and Haskell 'dogged' around the park but again nothing said to me 'test spot'. Dan Cole was again very good, except for that cheap shot which largely went un-noticed in the first half.
Talking of cheap shots there was far to much niggle and off the ball nonsense for my liking. It was unedifying to say the least and detracted from an otherwise excellent game.
The other big opportunity was laid in front of Jonathan Joseph. He did little wrong but equally did little to inspire me to pick him in the test squad, not that I am picking the test squad of course. Leigh Halfpenny did some good things, except dropping what looked the simplest of catches. Tommy Seymour signed off his tour with a couple of tries, and Jack Nowell was Jack Nowell, overall pretty good but sometimes you just simply had to shout 'where the !*$! are you going!!'. Laidlaw did alright and that off load to Seymour was pretty special. His pass was laboured from the tackle/ruck though. On Saturday Murray or Webb must be sharper than laidlaw was. Finally Best and Marler did ok. Best led from the front and I liked his captaincy style. A little in the face of the referee but very politely, and no histrionics with his team just calm and precise guidance.
The Hurricanes played some great stuff and their last but one try was sublime. I know the Lions were down to 14 men but they were sliced open like a kipper. What a move. They could easily have won if their early penalty count hadn't gifted the Lions several points. Jordie Barrett looks a player and is certain to get more All Black caps. Mr & Mrs Barrett must be very proud.
The test squad is announced in the early hours of Thursday but I really can't see many changes now. The emphasis will need to be on the tactics. Keep the ball in hand. Don't chase the game when under pressure. Be much more aggressive at ruck and maul. Get the All Blacks onto the back foot. Don't be afraid to target Beauden Barrett (as the All Blacks did with Conor Murray). Get the ball away from contact quickly. The All Blacks are not afraid to have big forwards out wide. Watch for this and exploit it. All of course easier said than done. The absolute key is at the tackle find a way to slow down or nullify the All Blacks off-loading game.
More on Thursday morning after the squad is announced.
To ensure balance is restored well done Ireland, a fine win over Japan and a perfect summer tour for them. Wales scraped a win against Samoa but I understand most of the team had a terrible stomach bug, so bad the changing room at half time was like Newcastle's Big Market on a Saturday night: bodies and vomit everywhere. After Scotland's fine win against Australia they were brought back to earth with a bump going down to Fiji. Finally the annoucement that rugby in South Africa is dead might be a little premature, albeit the French looked knackered after a long season.
No rant today. Too worn out. Looking after the grandson is exhausting, even with two of us doing it.
Monday 26th June - 17:30
Back from Bridgnorth. Glad to say the business reasons for going went well and mum got a clean bill of health from the doctors this morning.
A quick rant before I look at tomorrow's team and possible changes for Saturday. Regardless of who he is, regardless of his politics, it is outrageous that John McDonnell has stated that the Grenfell Tower victims were murdered and it was also down to austerity. No-one set out to murder these innocent people. It was not a deliberate act and to call it murder is not acceptable. The slaying of innocents at Finsbury Park or Westminster or Manchester was murder. This was a terrible, terrible accident. The police and other authorities need to investigate thoroughly and any wrong doing, especially fraudulent behaviour needs to be punished to the full extend that the law allows but please don't call it murder. To blame it on austerity is also a disgrace. If austerity was involved these people wouldn't have had a roof over their head, the council wouldn't have tried to improve their lot, and so I could go on. After the deaths of so many it is disgusting for politicians of any persuasion to try and score cheap points on the back of this tragedy. Rant over.
Back to rugby. The Lions take on the Hurricanes tomorrow in the cake tin in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city. They will have their work cut out, however, if those in red go out there with the view that there are still two tests to come and test places are not yet fixed then they should overcome the hosts. Jonathan Jospeh has reappeared from his exile and starts in the centre alongside Robbie Henshaw. Joseph has an outside chance of ousting Ben Te'O from the centre spot so a good game is required. Jack Nowell at full back is odd but I guess with all the other options likely to remain in Saturday's 23 it leaves Gatland with little choice. George North has a chance to get back into favour but he will have to play like a man possessed if he is to dislodge Elliot Daly. It looks as if Best, Cole and Marler are not going to see action on Tuesday and Saturday. Another day in a warm coat and blazer and tie awaits them on the 1st of July me thinks. Biggar and Laidlaw will also be in the stands alongsise them. Where it gets interesting is the second row and back row. Neither Alun Wyn Jones nor George Kruis were inspiring last weekend and both could be axed. Courtney Lawes with his abrasive game could get the nod ahead of them both and partner Maro Itoje in the test starting line-up. Iain Henderson is a skillful player but lacks that combative edge, the bit of nastiness that was lacking in the first game. If we assume Sam Warburton is going to start and Faletau will keep his place at No.8 is Sean O'Brien's place up for grabs? I don't know but a big game from CJ Stander who can be a bit sluggish around the park at times does have the ability to disrupt, annoy, frustrate and get in the face of the opposition might just find himself in the starting line-up. I think Tipuric has been great and confident he will have another big game tomorrow. Like Henderson he is skillful and agile but not necessarily the aggravating tow-rag Gatland needs. Finally I hope Gatland uses the bench against the Hurricanes despite the continue mis-placed howls of derision about his selection. Intersting that Kruis is also on that bench.
As you know by now Tuesday is grandparenting duties so once again I will endeavour to get through the day without knowing the result and put some bullshit together immediately after I have seen the game.
Leaping ahead to Saturday there is already much speculation about selection and the tactics required to beat the All Blacks. Selection first and what would I do. I would leave the 10 to 15 unchanged. They all did enough to keep their place. I would take the risk and start with Rhys Webb and have Conor Murray on the bench. Rhys Webb is like the annoying kid in the playground. The one who gets up everybody's nose because he is a skillful little b'stard but also horribly aggressive with it. He winds you up then takes advantage. He is also very quick around the contact area with a snappy pass. The front row is unchanged as are the boys on the bench. If Jamie George is injured then Best onto the bench with Ken Owens starting is my view. Maro Itoje will start. Put half a crown on that as a certainty. What is uncertain is who will be alongside him. I would be tempted to go with Alun Wyn Jones, but I would wouldn't I? If Lawes has a good game then he could go straight in with Jones on the bench. In the back row I would go Warburton, O'Brien and Faletau.
To the bench. Front row as is as already stated. Joseph in for Halfpenny, Murray and Sexton, Jones/Lawes, Stander. For the record I haven't gone for Haskell. He has played well and has the aggressive attributes needed, but, and it is an important but, he is prone to ill-discipline giving penalties away at the breakdown and in other contact areas. That rules him out in my book. I will review my thoughts after tomorrow's game.
I will look at the tactical changes required on Wednesday.
Wellington, a fantastic city with the 'cake tin' being an amazing stadium right in the heart of the city. The marina and the restaurants surrounding it are great. The Te Papa Tongarewa Museum is probably the best I have been to anywhere in the world. An amazing place which includes the interactive earthquake house which is very realistic. The cable car up to the botanic gardens is something special and Wellington boasts the only Welsh Pub in New Zealand. It is definitely Welsh, not the best place we went to quite frankly. Our highlight was the steak house where they serve you the most succulent steaks which you cook yourself on the stone. Simply devine.
Back tomorrow at some point.
Saturday June 24th - 13:00
Let me swear to start: FFFNNNNNNNNN Technology. Three times I've written this and three times my PC has crashed and I lost it. Fourth time lucky.
If you were new to rugby you would have felt this morning's game to be a great advert for the sport. A fast, open game played with great skill, and up until half time a game that could have gone either way. Some of the skills on show were exemplary, epitomised by Beauden Barrett's one handed pick-up early on and Kieran Read's pass off the ground out of the scrum.
Half way through the second half I came to the conclusion that the one word that summed up the All Blacks is RUTHLESS. Give them an inch and they'll take a mile. I felt their off-loading was marginally better than the Lions and the speed the ball was moved away from contact was a fraction quicker. At this level it is fractions that count. Their speed of thought and deed resulted in two tries and again that was another difference; the Lions created some great opportunities but couldn't convert them into points.
It was a cracking game with Jonathan Davies early break setting the tone. Gatland's selection of the back three proved right both in attack and pleasingly in defence. Liam Williams break to set up the Lions first try was exceptional as was his link up with Watson for him to go on a great run. It was a shame he tried to off-load rather than going into contact. That catch when under pressure was superb and thwarted a certain try. Likewise it was a shame Williams spilled the high ball that gifted the All Blacks their third try. Minor blemishes on otherwise great performances. Daly was excellent but in my opinion eclipsed by Jonathan Davies, my Lions man of the match.
The All Blacks thwarted the Lions at the lineout by sacking the catcher and they were not the pushover at the scrum I had hoped for. Defensively the men in black were excellent and punished any wayward kicking with speed and accuracy and fully exploited the Lions penalty count.
Sexton brought added flair when he came on but tried too hard to keep moves alive when chasing the game late on. It was good Webb, who looked lively for the few minutes he was on, scored a consolation score to reduce the deficit. Sinckler made an impact which was very pleasing.
The Lions will need to look at their forward mobility which I'll look at later in the week but there were some positive signs. They now move on to Wellington with Gatland & Co. having some tough decisions to make if a 3-0 test whitewash is to be avoided.
In closing Aaron Smith was simply brilliant but Kieran Read was outstanding, a clear man of the match. Back late Monday for more comment.