Thursday 22nd June - 20:00
The Fez Heads will be delighted with the Lions selection with six of the squad coming from Saracens. I have taken the liberty of including Liam Williams of course. Where they will disagree with me, and many of the real pundits, is the selection of Alun Wyn Jones ahead of Maro Itoje. Having mulled this over and read the many much more informed reports on the selection I am convinced it is the right decision. Alun Wyn Jones brings experience, leadership, dynamism and importantly a calm head. He might lack the athletic ability of Itoje but his other attributes will be crucial against the streetwise All Blacks. Bringing Itoje on as the game develops and players tire has great merit. His open play ability, pace and speed of thought will give the All Blacks something new to worry about. The interesting point here is we are all assuming that Itoje will come on for Alun Wyn. Kruis has tired as games have progressed and there is nothing to say Itoje wouldn't come on for any of the back row players. This is another very good reason having him on the bench is the right one.
The other talking point, which I assume will have got Paddy O'Fez in a spin is Farrell v Sexton. A Saracen vs an Irishman. It is a bit like putting two shovels up against a wall and asking Paddy to take his pick. Anyway, I have always favoured Farrell. Sexton has improved since game one but has been off colour. On his day Sexton is a world beater but Farrell's form has been consistently good. Farrell is the better defensive player in my book and with the mercurial Beauden Barrett opposite him he will need that part of his game to be at its best. I also think by selecting Farrell Gatland has the luxury of picking Liam Williams ahead of Leigh Halfpenny. My only concern is the game plan. If Gatland wants his exciting backs unleashed at every opportuinity then Farrell is right. If on the other hand it becomes a tactical kicking battle then Sexton would have been the better choice. Time will tell.
Most pundits appear excited by Gatland's bold selection of Watson, Daly and Williams. Get plenty of ball to them on the front foot then I concur. My biggest worry, and a worry voiced by many in the press is the defensive qualities and what part are the conditions going to play. That is the unknown but with the forecast to be wet and windy Gatland's selections might just come up short. Defensively the three of them can be vunerable, but that said, so can Leigh Halfpenny and George North.
In all of this we haven't got long to wait before we know the outcome.
To state the bleedin' obvious the penalty count has to be low and the out of hand kicking has to be perfect, both in terms of accuracy and when to kick. Aimless kicking will be lapped up by the All Blacks and brought right back at the Lions at pace. I remain convinced the scrum and lineout will prove to be a solid source of good ball but it has to be used wisely. If you've gone for pace out wide you have to use it!!! Finally the referee will play a part. So far the officiating has been excellent. Let's hope for more of the same.
My opinions on the game straight after the match has finished.
The many thousands of Lions supporters in Auckland will be eagerly awaiting this one. The Viaduct Harbour and the surrounding bars and restaurants will be packed. Those who get to the ground early might want to pop into The Dominion for a quick one before kick off. Great bar with great pre-match atmosphere. If it is raining then the Auckland museum is brilliant. The SKYCITY casino is there for those who like that sort of thing or there is of course the big shopping malls with some great food concessions to tempt the palate. If it is dry there are some amazing places to visit around the marina and harbour area. Great bars and restaurants and some cracking markets.
The trains and buses will be aplenty and fantastically well organised for accessing the ground. You can walk, and during RWC 2011 we did that several times. It is not a short walk but easy enough with plenty of pit stops along the way. Once in the ground the covered stands are enormous but the ends are open. It can be pretty windy too so decent waterproofs might be the order of the day. The atmosphere is great but expect the All Black supporters to be less than welcoming if their side is under the cosh.
Can't wait. It should be a cracker.
Wednesday 21st June - 21:30
The Lions test team has just been announced and out of it comes one very simple question: what does Bleater know about rugby? Answer: Jack shit!
As I wrote yesterday I thought Liam Williams did some things amazingly well, but I genuinely thought he was poor in other areas. Gatland and his coaching staff, and most of the proper pundits, as opposed to a grumpy old windbag disagreed and thought the performance was worthy of a test start. The fact he starts ahead of Leigh Halfpenny makes it all the more surprising in my opinion. Halfpenny's boot has been metronomic and every point will be crucial on Saturday.
The front row selection is spot on based on form on the tour. I would have been tempted to start with Ken Owens with the more athletic George coming on when the game starts to break up, much in the way Eddie Jones uses George for England. I am delighted Sinckler is on the bench. He has been great all tour.
The biggest decision was always going to be Alun Wyn Jones or Maro Itoje. Gatland has gone with his tried and trusted lieutenant ahead of the young buck. I can see the merit in this and would have made the same decision knowing the versatile Itoje is there when required. George Kruis selection was a no-brainer.
The back row, on tour form to date, has picked itself, as has the decision to select Peter O'Mahony as captain. O'Brien and O'Faletau have been consistently good in every game they have played and it would have been a travesty for them not to be starting. You feel for Tipuric and Stander, especially as it is questionable whether Sam Warburton deserves even to be on the bench.
So to the backs. Conor Murray was always in pole position at #9 but who was going to partner him? Many of the hacks went for Sexton based on his experience and when on song his ability to bring the game alive with his pace and slight of hand. Farrell is the more robust #10 and has been the more consistent to date. A lot will ride on Farrell's shoulders though with him being the front line kicker too. Expect Sexton and Halfpenny on if Farrell's kicking becomes unreliable.
The centres of Te'O and Davies was another easy one to predict. They have been the class act of the back line. The back three will be crucial. It is an exciting last line of defence or hopefully a stunning attacking force. Watson was a shoe-in for me but as already stated I would have had Halfpenny at full back and would have gone with George North ahead of Elliot Daly. That said Daly was excellent on Tuesday. (That one I did get right!!) My concern centres around their defensive qualities rather than their undeniable attacking talents. It is going to be wet and windy on Saturday so fast, open, running rugby might have to take a back seat to rugby pragmatism, which begs the question about Gatland's selection.... but as you know I don't have a clue about this game of ours.
The players not yet mentioned on the bench are Rhys Webb and Jack McGrath. Both sound choices.
The All Blacks have also named their side. Kieran Read starts and as captain. Dane Cole is injured. He will be a big miss. The star man and chief orchestrator Beauden Barrett along with Sonny Bill Williams will be the main threats but that All Black back line looks awesome. Israel Dagg and Ben Smith have missed games through injury and might be undercooked. Let's hope so. The front row might, just might, be the Achilles heel but oustside that it is difficult to find any weaknesses.
If the weather forecast is right then that is good news for the Lions. I can see them matching the All Blacks as a minimum, if not winning the set piece of scrum and lineout and can see the Lions back row being very competitive at the break down. Keeping the game tight and keeping the hosts on the back foot will be key. I expect a lot of kicking but it needs to be perfect. Where I worry is the Lions back three being on the defensive in a game of attrition. The All Blacks will grind you down and with their support play and mesmeric off-loading it could prove to be a long day at the office.
Going to read all the press stuff now so back tomorrow night with more comment and some Auckland and Eden Park memories ready for Friday morning.
Tuesday 20th June - 20:00
Before I get into the Lions what an embarrassment to humanity is Darren Osborne. To attack defenceless, law abiding citizens going about their daily lives with a van is a disgrace. The moronic idiot has done more to further the cause of Islamic terrorism than you can imagine and he should be locked away and the key thrown in the River Taff never to be found again. Sorry to rant but I cannot believe someone can be that spiteful, and brain-washed into thinking all Muslims are bad. Let's pray for his victims.
On a more joyous note what another excellent Lions performance. It has to be said that the Chiefs were without their significant All Black contingent but nonetheless this was a great result and sets Saturday up perfectly. The game was again won in defence. Some rock solid tackling, good line-speed and a collective discipline. If I was to be critical I would say that if you are going to shoot out of the line you have to nail your opposite number. A couple of times the tackle was made but not as effectively as it should have been. Against the All Blacks they will punish you for any slight inaccuracy in the tackle.
As a unit the forwards were on song with the lineout a source of quick, clean ball, and the scrum a pretty sold platform to launch attacks from. The maul and ruck worked well albeit still a little laboured at times, but that really is nit-picking.
The backs also delivered a more dynamic, incisive performance as a unit. At last we saw some excellent angles of attack and good quick hands thus releasing players out wide. The back play was not overly complicated but inventive enough to keep the Chiefs on the back foot and in the 'zone of uncertainty' (which I just made up).
Being hyper-critical some of the penalties conceded were unacceptable; Joe Marler's cheap shot as an example, and some of the kicking from hand was inaccurate and aimless.
In the previous drivel I have spewed out I said that stellar performances were required to get Gatland's attention and to leap-frog into Saturday's test team. For me two players really stood out; CJ Stander and Dan Cole. I thought both were outstanding from start to finish. I have often been critical of Cole but today I have nothing but absolute praise for his magnificent contribution. I thought Tipuric was excellent as was Courtney Lawes. I continue to worry about Lawes long term health though. Another nasty knock to the head when he collided with Marler. Obviously it would be wrong not to mention Jack Nowell. From playing like a rabbit in the headlights in the first game to today's performance needs to be applauded. Going forward he was excellent and whilst his second try will be the one most shown on the highlight reels I thought his 'quarterback sneak' for his first was real class. That said I still worry about his defence.
Elsewhere Dan Biggar played assuredly but won't trouble Farrell or Sexton. Likewise Laidlaw was very good but Murray and Webb have the edge. Haskell did what Haskell does well and Rory Best led by example. Elliot Daly put down a marker for test selection and Payne and Henshaw got to show why they are on the tour. Tommy Seymour; what a great break. Tommy Seymour; what a shit pass. Iain Henderson did nothing wrong but was outshone by the other excellent contributions. If there was one player who disappointed it was Liam Williams. He did some things amazingly well but was poor, in fact very poor at other times. I am a great fan of Williams so to write this criticism is hard, but I think ultimately fair.
So, we now get to the exam question: if you have put your neck on the block bringing fringe players into the squad then why bring on Alun Wyn Jones rather than use Cory Hill. Surely that was the reason why Hill was there? Answers in no more than 50 words to: #ItDoesn'tMakeSenseGats.
Not sure when the test team is announced but I will try and put some sentences together as soon as it is. Bottom line is this was a great result, an excellent performance and the perfect way to go into the first test.
Monday 19th June - 10:00
I bet there are some burnt bodies out there today. What a scorcher yesterday. What a scorcher the Scotland result over Australia. Finally got to watch the highlights and read the match reports. Scotland played fantastically well and deserved the win. They deserved it not just because of the quality of their attacking flair and the excellent tries but in my view primarily for the defensive qualities shown. They were under siege in the last 20 minutes and held out. William Wallace remembered. A great result indeed.
Wales win over Tonga was more workmanlike. The very inexperienced Welsh side did what they had to. The old heads; Cuthbert (for the 37 minutes he played), Roberts and Gareth Davies led the way and the young bucks, especially Sam Davies followed. That said he was wayward with his place kicking on several occasions. They now take on Samoa with a much depleted side: Lions call ups and Cuthbert flying home due to the shoulder injury sustained against Tonga.
The Lions are in Hamilton where they take on a young Chiefs side. I expect a Lions win but not by many. The Tuesday side will need to be at their best and those who still with an eye on a test spot in the coming weeks will need to step up to the plate and put in a stellar performance. Tipuric and Stander in the forwards, and Williams, Henshaw and Payne in the backs are the key contenders for test spots. All eyes on them me thinks.
We didn't get to Hamilton in 2011 but I understand it to be the fourth largest metropolitan area and the largest inland city in New Zealand. It straddles the Waikato River, New Zealand's longest and is the home of Warren Gatland. He was schooled at Hamilton Boys High School.
Tuesday is grandparenting day so as with last week I will try and watch the game 'as live' later in the day and do a blog tomorrow evening ready for Wednesday morning.
Sunday 18th June - 09:00
It is real shame that Saturday's excellent Lions performance over the Maoris is being overshadowed by Gatland's decision to bring in six players as cover, only two of whom; Gareth Davies and Finn Russell, are anywhere near good enough to be considered Lions. Russell was unlucky not to get the nod ahead of Biggar in the first place and likewise Davies could have been Gatland's choice when Ben Youngs opted out of the tour. It is madness that Joe Launchbury wasn't drafted in the minute Courtney Lawes had left the field injured. If a hooker is needed then Dylan should have been the choice. What is done is done. If the Lions beat the All Blacks next weekend all this will be forgotten. If they don't then questions will be asked.
The side for Tuesday would indicate that Farrell is fit as Biggar starts. Surprisingly Alun Wyn Jones is on the bench. This might indicate that Maro Itoje will get the nod ahead of him for that test spot. Amazingly Lawes starts on Tuesday. I am no doctor, in fact I am nothing but a clown, but common sense would tell you 'that that can't be right'. Hey ho! It is becoming more and more obvious that the side (squad) that beat the Maoris is likely to be the test side. All the players drafted in for this game are on the bench. By the way, where is Jonathan Joseph? Not in the team nor on the bench.
The concensus on Saturday was the Lions at last showed that there is a chance they can snatch a win against the mighty All Blacks. The pundits are in agreement Sean O'Brien should start ahead of Warburton. They were also more fulsome in their praise of Ben Te'O than I was and with hindisght that is fair. They were not so positive about George North but that is where I disagree. I think he was starved of ball but was impactful when he did get it and except for the one lapse was solid in defence. More on the Lions tomorrow.
I still haven't seen anything of the Wales game v Tonga nor Scotland's excellent win over Australia so nothing to say until tomorrow. I did watch South Africa v France which was another exciting game. The Bokke looked very impressive against a very tired French outfit. The French played with flair but all too often the final pass went astray. The men in green were resolute in defence and ruthless in attack and were worthy winners. A cracking result for a young Irish side in Japan too.
The Argentina v England game was thoroughly enjoyable. Not the nail biter of last weekend but an excellent example of how rugby should be played. George Ford was imperious at #10, Dylan was back to his best, as was Chris Robshaw. It was Mike Brown who caught the eye however with some excellent work both in attack and defence. His interception and off-load was superb. Yet again all the youngsters played their part and that whisper about England winning RWC 2019 is becoming a sensible discussion after yesterday. I anticipate if more troops are needed in New Zealand this is where Gatland will look. It is fair to say England were helped by Argentina's inability to lock-on to the final pass at crucial moments and their willingness to play with 'gay abandon' regardless of the circumstances.
Sadly, in my opinion, Denny Solomona made his second appearance for the Red Rose. Castleford and Sale have settled their dispute, costing Sale something like £200k+ and a further £100k towards Castleford's legal costs. He didn't do anything on Saturday and the week before he was useless in defence but did score the winning try. Time to move on Bleater? Yes indeed.
Enjoy the weather and don't forget the hat and suncream.
Saturday 17th June - 11:30
Have moved on from Dorset and now in Salisbury so enjoyed watching the game with the grandchildren this morning.
Before we get into the analysis of the Lions performance a quick 'well done' to Scotland and Wales. Will review these games tomorrow when I will also discuss England's performance.
In a wet Rotorua the Lions at last showed some class. Except for the mix up between George North and Leigh Halfpenny which gifted the Maoris their try this was a dominant and well disciplined performance. That said the All Blacks will be a different challenge all together next Saturday. The scrum looked rock solid and the starting front row could justifiably start against New Zealand in the first test. Mako Vunipola was solid as were Jamie George and Tadgh Furlong. As expected Kruis cemented his starting test berth with an excellent game. I don't envy Gatland one bit in terms of the decision he has to make with Itoje. Another stellar contribution BUT will he be pipped to the post by Alun Wyn Jones. I am certain Itoje will be in the 23 man squad, whether he starts or not I don't know. For the record I think Itoje coming off the bench and making a huge impact might be the way to go. The back row played very well so I see no reason to change them. Shame for Tipuric as he is unlikely to be involved at all, nor will Stander, and Warburton will be on the bench.
When I wrote my drivel on Thursday I hadn't realised that Farrell was injured. I still feel he is the better option of the three outside halves but Sexton certainly put a marker down and I feel he will be the starter next week. Connor Murray was excellent again. The backs as a whole did well but personally I would have liked to see North and Watson with more ball in hand. Both showed glimpses of what they are capable of and are likely to be wrapped in a cosy blanket watching from the stands on Tuesday. Jonathan Davies looked good. Everything he did was top drawer. Ben Te'O was impactful and made the hard yards when required. A good game on Tuesday from Jonathan Joseph would be good, also from Henshaw, both of whom who could make a surprise test appearance ahead of Te'O. Leigh Halfpenny did nothing wrong at all and his kicking means he is a 'must' to start in the test.
The game plan worked well. The lineout was accurate and a powerful weapon. The scrum was solid and the rolling maul controlled. If there was criticism I felt Faletau was a bit laboured in getting away from the back of the scrum and him and Murray could sharpen up that aspect of the game. I liked the off-loading but the Lions will need to be perfect next week and look to off-load more frequently. There were a couple of occasions when the ball was taken into contact when the off-load was on. Momentum will be key against the All Blacks. Defensively things were pretty sharp but again the All Blacks will offer new challenges to be dealt with. Their pace and incisive running will be a handful. There was much less kicking from the Lions today and thankfully when kicking was required it was dynamic and purposeful. A rock solid display against a very high quality Maori side.
Gatland has put the cat amongst the pigeons and ruffled the feathers of Eddie Jones in particular by selecting four Welshman to join the tour as cover. You could argue that Gareth Davies and Thomas Francis are good call-ups but Cory Hill and Kristian Dacey. Do me a favour! If you need cover at hooker and second row then Dylan and Joe Launchbury have to be the answer. If Farrell is injured then George Ford or Finn Russell make sense, especially as Russell is just over the Tasman Sea in Australia. Time will tell with these two. This minor fuss shouldn't be allowed to detract from the win today........ but rest assured if the Lions don't win the test series questions could well will be asked.
Before I go I so want to comment on the press coverage and some of the recent events surrounding the White City fire but as this is the club website I can't, and I fear my comments would be so divisive I could well be ostracised for ever and a day. The key point is to remember the dead and the grieving families and those who are now displaced. Terrible, terrible, terrible circumstances.
Thursday 15th June - 18:45
In Dorset right now having just completed a 10 mile coastal walk with 34 school kids. Trust me when I say I am knackered; physically and mentally. As we were walking I couldn't get out of my head how lucky I was to be able to do this and how really lucky these kids, all from pretty privileged backgrounds, were able to do this. I couldn't help but draw comparisons with the horrendous events in London over the past few days with tragic loss of life and the heartache and torment the displaced families must be going through, especially if they have lost loved ones during the fire. It is impossible to understand their grief; it must be intolerable. Our hearts go out to them.
Rugby seems unimportant right now but as for them life must go on and that means the British & Irish Lions vs the Maori All Blacks on Saturday. Warren Gatland has selected a pretty strong side. I am not convinced this is a test side but some of the selections would indicate it is. The big selection is Johnny Sexton with Dan Biggar on the bench. I see this as a final audition for Sexton. Go well and he'll be in the squad. Go badly and Biggar gets the place on the bench. Farrell will start against the All Blacks..... in my humble opinion.
The rest of the backs looks very much a test selection and if they go well I see them all starting against the All Blacks in Auckland on the 24th June. Jonathan Joseph is the only real candidate to oust these with Rhys Webb waiting in the wings at #9.
In the forwards, if they stay fit, I see Mako Vunipola, Taulupe Faletau, and Kruis as the nailed on test selections. For Furlong, O'Mahony and O'Brien I feel they too have a final audition to get through with Warburton, Moriarty and Tipuric all chomping at the bit. George is keeping the hooker berth warm for Ken Owens. The forward I can't get my head around is young Itoje. Will he keep Alun Wyn Jones out or displace Kruis. I don't know. I think he'll be on the bench a week on Saturday.
To the bench. Owens, Sinckler and McGrath could be the test front row. Henderson is a place holder, as is Laidlaw. Biggar and Daly are also unlikely to feature but a good game when they come on could mean a bench spot. Warburton needs a massive game if he is to be the test captain.
Those are my views at least. What is certain this will be a brutal encounter with the Maoris playing in one of the heartlands of Maori culture; Rotorua.
'Stinky' Rotorua gets its nickname because of the all pervasive sulphurous odour that hangs over the town. This is one of the most geologically active areas in the world with thermal pools, and geysers aplenty. The Maori influence is everywhere and at times there is an 'edge' to the town that is not noticeable elsewhere as Maori gangs can be an issue. The town sits on Lake Rotorua with the Government Gardens being a beautiful highlight. One of the gems is the Whakarewarewa Thermal Village. A fascinating and a wonderful insight led by a fantastic guide into Maori culture and their lives. When we were there in 2011 there wasn't a game at the stadium but I know it to be an open stadium but one that can still generate quite a hostile atmosphere. The hotel we stayed at had a nice little swimming pool and thermal pool complex. Just perfect before several beers and a nice meal.
I hate to say it but I can't see the Lions winning this one either. Time will tell so back on Saturday post match when I will also comment on tomorrow's Tonga v Wales game and Saturday's Argentina vs England encounter.
Tuesday 13th June - 20:30
Amazingly I got through the day to watch the game 'as live'. I am glad I did because as a game of rugby it was a cracker; no quarter given, no quarter asked. On Monday I said the pitch was like a bowling green: perfect for running rugby and so it proved.
Let's look at the negatives first. The score obviously. Going to Rotorua (Dylan's hometown by the way) to face the Maori All Blacks with a defeat is not ideal. Did any of the back row on show make a clear cut case for test selection? Not in my view. CJ Stander was the 'curate's egg'; good in parts, Haskell was pretty ordinary, and Warburton didn't come alive until the second half. The injury to Lawes looks bad and I wouldn't be surprised if his tour is over. The penalty count remains too high and there is still something missing when it comes to closing out games. Some of the kicking is still way too inaccurate and too speculative. Was the first Highlanders try an obstruction on Henshaw. You wouldn't argue if that had gone against the men in blue.
Before the positives I think it fair to say this looked the mid-week side and was a long way off the test side. That said based on the pundits view this is the 'strongest Lions squad ever selected' you wouldn't expect to see an under-strength Highlanders franchise beat the them.
Who did well? Clearly Rhys Webb. He had another stand out game and will as a minmum be on the bench for the first test. Dan Biggar did well. He showed some of the old mojo so lacking recently for the Ospreys. Jared Payne played with commitment and plenty of bravery, and Jonathan Jospeh had a solid game, especially going forward. Iain Henderson played very well and with the injury to Lawes might sneak a place on the bench. The starting front did well with young Sinckler showing some deft touches for a big man. In terms of game plan it was quicker, more open, more incisive. Defensively, it was sound, except for the Highlanders winning try from the rolling maul.
Tommy Seymour took his try superbly but had been pretty ordinary to that point. He livened up in the second half but in my book too little too late. Jospeh's try was well worked and well deserved, as was Warburton's, depsite the 'cheat' by Alun Wyn Jones in the build up.
Back to young Sinckler. He did ok and could be the shock test selection. That said an older and wiser front row forward would have powered for the line regardless of having men outside him. The recklessness of youth again came to the fore with the unnecessary late shoulder charge just before he got the shepherd's crook.
Will the Maori's be quaking in their boots after watching this? Absolutely not! Will Steve Hansen be losing any sleep about losing the series? Absolutely not! The Lions have got to build on the positives and eradicate the negatives. I say again the penalty count is an issue and the off-loading and support play needs to be sharper and more accurate. The side for Saturday will be pretty close to the test XV so let's see what Gatland and his charges can deliver.
In commentary Barnes, Harrison, Greenwood et al keep on about the amazing strength in depth the New Zealanders have. I wonder if that has anything to do with how grassroots rugby is developed, and how few overseas players feature in the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises. Answers on a post card.
Talking of feedback Comrade Paddy O'Fez has been in touch with his normal erudite comments, responses to which will wait until the tour is over and the 'Carry On' farce that is the government settles down. Keep the feedback coming.
How does the song go; 'I'm on the road again' so blogging might be eratic. Definitely will comment on Gatland's next selection and give you some of my memories of 'Stinky' Rotorua next time round.
Monday 12th June - 09:00
The Lions are now in Dunedin ready to face the Highlanders at the Forsyth Barr Stadium. When I was there in 2011 I described the stadium in this way; 'when lit up it looks like, and probably is a giant greenhouse, with its plastic roof dominating the skyline. Once you are inside it is wonderful. You are close to the action, the noise reverberates off the roof and the giant screens allow a crystal clear view of the action when some 6'5" Kiwi jumps up in front of you. The pitch is like a bowling green: perfect for an open running game'.
Whether we have a running game will depend on how the Lions approach this one and whether the squad is good enough. This looks like a 'cobbled together' team based on who is fit and who needs more game time rather than any sort of nod to test selection. Jared Payne who did ok, but below many people's expectations against the Blues is at #15. With Hogg injured and Watson and Williams battered and bruised after Saturday this makes some sense........ but where is Halfpenny, not even on the bench. I am guessing he is now being wrapped in cotton wool to protect him. Jack Nowell returns and has much to do if he is a) to redeem himself from his disappointing start and b) get anywhere near a test berth. Joseph and Henshaw look an interesting centre partnership with both needing to be at their best. I expect both will go well IF Biggar and Webb get the ball to them early and on the front foot. Tommy Seymour makes up the backs. Conor (now spelt correctly) Murray is in pole position for #9 but another strong showing from Webb will secure his place on the bench for the first test. Biggar is behind both Farrell and the improving Sexton. He needs a big 80 minutes.
Moving to the forwards. Marler, Best and Sinckler are all still in contention. I have been impressed by young Sinckler in particular and he could be nailed on for squad inclusion if he goes well again tomorrow. The same applies to Courtney Lawes of course. His partner Henderson has slipped down the pecking order but that might just be the incentive he needs to rediscover his excellent 6 Nations form. Warburton leads the side and needs to prove his fitness and have a massive game if he is to lead the side out when they return to Auckland and Eden Park for that first test. Stander has already made a claim but needs a huge performance if he is to get ahead of Faletau and Tipuric, the latter being on the bench tomorrow. The same applies to Haskell who must improve from a below par performance against the Blues.
It looks a strong bench with a lot of big hitters, and in my humble opinion first choice test players ready to make an impression. The injury list grows as Moriarty is still struggling, and as said yesterday; where is George North? Hogg's tour could be over. Time will tell.
Slight change in terms of my timings for tomorrow. As I will be grandparenting I will watch the game 'as live' (hopefully) later in the day and do my analysis in the evening ready for Wednesday morning. There are between 100 and 175 hits a day to this drivel so please keep reading. It makes it all worth while.
Dunedin, the home to Otago University, and the now defunct Carisbrook Stadium; 'the house of pain'. It is a small compact city with a few good hotels; the Lions are probably at the Scenic Southern Cross, England's base in 2011. The focal point of the city is the Octogan, an eight sided (surprise, surprise) square with several excellent bars and restaurants around it. The old railway station is an architectural delight and is home to the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. Only in New Zealand will the world champion sheep shearer be included. A short stroll from the Octagon is Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world, famed for its biannual charity runs. Further afield you can travel on the heritage line up through the magnificent Taieri Gorge or take a tour out to the stunning Otago Pennisular and then on to see the Moreki Boulders, perfectly sperical boulders along the sweeping coastline.
Since 2011 things might have changed but look out for the Kiwis with their cheap plastic buckets cut to look like medieval knights helmets.
Should be another cracker.
Well done Lewis Hamilton. Well done Wales, a draw is a good result.Great job England Under 20 soccer in winning the world cup. Of course Theresa Maybe is still singing 'shall I go or shall I stay now'.
Sunday 11th June - 09:20
Building on the dream theme of yesterday Denny Solomona made a dream start to his England career with a stunning last minute try under the posts to secure an excellent win for Eddie Jones and his England team. It was a cracker of a game with some fantastic rugby from both sides. The Argentinians have without doubt benefitted from having a side in Super Rugby and from their involvement in the southern hemisphere Championship. Whilst the power game is still there they now play with flair and pace. Some of the support play and the off-loading was sublime resulting in wonderful tries. Did they deserve to lose? Probably not. Did they deserve to win? Probably not. A draw would have been a fair result.
George Ford who took centre stage as Farrell is in New Zealand was superb. His decision making, kicking, passing and ability to make a break all top drawer. His try was excellent highlighting his all round ability. Young Tim Curry was impressive as were the other debutants. Dylan played well throughout simply by doing the basics well and by leading from the front by example. With such a young inexperienced squad at Jones' diposal you feared for England prior to kick off. With a result like that the followers of the Red Rose can rightly start to whisper about the real possibility of England coming home from RWC 2019 with the cup. Genuine strength in depth and real talent waiting in the wings.
A splendid game to watch, in my case with a bottle of Argentinian Malbec. A great advert for our wonderful game.
Having roasted nicely in the garden for several hours yesterday it was only right to seek shade around 4pm and watch the South Africa v France encounter. Another splendid match with both sides playing expansive rugby with a high degree of skill and precision. The Boks played as well as I have seen for some time but this against a tired looking French side minus their stars from Clermont Auvergne and Toulon, and played at altitude in Pretoria. France will be better prepared next week and I foresee a closer game, especially if that whipper-snapper of a scrum-half; Serin, starts at #9 for France.
All the other games went very much as predicted the highlight of which was Scotland's powerful performance against Italy in Singapore.
Reviewing the papers and the websites the general consensus was the Lions deserved their win, played very well indeed with Connor Murray, Owen Farrell and Taulupe Faletau taking all the applause. As expected the performance of Anthony Watson was highlighted by a few and like me they think he could be a test starter. Several commentators discussed the need for pressure to be turned into tries and also the need to ensure the magnificent defensive display of Saturday is repeated in every game to come.
Concern has been expressed over the head injuries to Hogg and Davies, neither of whom will feature until at least next Saturday. This is a blow to Gatland with both strong candidates as test starters. I see no mention of George North but ominously he is not in the squad for Tuesday. I'll look at that in depth tomorrow but note that Sam Warburton starts and Jared Payne is also fit and plays at full back. Dunedin is the Lions next destination and much on that tomorrow too.
Good day for England cricket yesterday. Bad day for English soccer. Good day for Lewis Hamilton. Can he turn pole into a Canadian F1 victory? Wales play Serbia tonight in their World Cup Qualifier and Theresa Maybe is still singing 'shall I go or shall I stay now'. What a shambles with a capital 'F'.
Saturday 10th June - 11:30
That's better!!!! Not just the win but the performance. Much more control and more importantly discipline. The Lions went close on several occasions but couldn't cross the whitewash. The fact they were making the opportunities and creating space for breaks inside and outside will have pleased the coaching staff despite the lack of tries. Let's not forget the Crusaders are 14 from 14 in Super Rugby so this is a fine, fine result.
The scrum looked solid enough with just a few wobbles. They certainly got the benefit of the doubt from the referee, who had a fine game by the way. I think Rowntree and Borthwick still have work to do in this area but it is a platform to build from. The lineout functioned efficiently as well and this should be a source of good ball in the games ahead.
The game was won in defence where the Lions were excellent. On the edge of offside, a la the All Blacks, most of the time, but the tackling was decisive and the rush was disciplined. Except for the one clean break the Crusaders were starved of quality ball to launch their potent attack from. Andy Farrell will be as smug as a bug in a rug tonight after that defensive showing.
I still think the out of hand kicking needs to be improved as still too many gifted the opposition the ball. It was definitely better though, and more considered. Owen Farrell's angled kick deep into the Crusaders' 22m was a thing of beauty.
This was a collective effort with every player doing his job effectively. That said I thought Mako Vunipola was outstanding. An unsung hero throughout. Connor Murray was excellent. Back to his imperious best. Farrell will start at #10 in the test even though Sexton looked sharper and played with more pace when he came on for the unlucky Jonathan Davies. That was a nasty injury Hogg incurred but a blessing for Anthony Watson as he has certainly put a marker down for test selection. Ben Te'O was dynamic and impactful in the first half but tailed off a little bit in the second. Falatau was again solid. I felt for Liam Williams. He played well and with more accuracy in the passing to him he could have been the man we are all talking about.
The worries from today; Stuart Hogg. That was a horrendous blow and a really nasty gash. He'll be out for a while as he will not only have to heal from the stitches but also follow the head injury protocols. Jonathan Davies will also have to be assessed but I think his knock was much less serious and in my opinion the coaches took him off as a precaution. He could be your starting test centre. Finally George North. He stayed on but in those closing minutes he was not right. Yet another bang to the head. I really worry about North and his long term health. If he has had another head knock the medical team must protect him.
As with the other games I'll read through the match analysis and make further comment tomorrow along with a review of today's other internationals.
I wasn't going to make any further comment about yesterday's depressing election result (the hung parliament) but as I was asked by someone for my opinion on where it was lost by the Tories and how Labour turned things around I will......
The experts will tell you much more than I possibly can but here are two factors in MY OPINION. 1. the Bias Broadcasting Company definitely had an influence, and 2. within that the role of Laura Kuenssberg. I had a dream last night that they made a film of Bill Clinton when he was President of the United States. Clinton was played by Jeremy Corbyn with Kuenssberg playing the part of Monica Lewinsky. Need I say more? It was a bad dream by the way if any lawyers read this rubbish.
Friday 9th June - 09:00
So we wake up this morning to a very different and very difficult political landscape. Theresa Maybe has egg running down her face, Comrade Corbyn has a smug grin on his, and Wee Jimmy Crankie has had the wind well and truly taken out of her sails. Get ready for a bumpy ride as we travel into a period of uncertainty. A result which no-one wanted and quite frankly is unsatisfactory whichever side of the political divide you are on.
For the record......... being an odious, opinionated, smug clown ....... as I listened to Maybe announcing the snap election I said 'she is making a big mistake' and so it comes to pass. Hey Ho!
BBC 2 8pm Argentina v England. With many first choice England players in New Zealand Eddie Jones has been forced to blood several youngsters in his squad. Tom Curry makes his debut at a week shy of 19 joined by Harry Williams, Mark Wilson and Alex Lozowski. There is still a lot of experience in the side led by Hartley. Launchbury, Brown, Yarde, Slade, Care, Ford and May all with many caps to their name all start. Denny Solomona is in the squad. I am sure he is a lovely, lovely guy but you know my view on that situation. The Pumas have become hard to beat at home and with it being England they need no greater incentive. Having Los Jaquares in Super Rugby is benefitting Argentinian rugby as a whole and their squad looks strong so I see them being hard to beat. I want England to win but go for a narrow home victory.
In the other fixtures I go Australia over Fiji, Japan to beat Romania, Italy to lose to Scotland, South Africa v France is too close to call, Canada to lose to Georgia, and USA to come second to Ireland.
Warren Gatland has come in for a lot of stick for the lack of flair and incisiveness in the two games played to date. 'Chaos' has not transpired and when the opposition have played an open off-loading game the Lions have been left wanting. If he is to avoid a 9-1 humiliation then the Lions have got to start getting the ball beyond the gain line in open play and releasing the potential they have out wide. It is a strong Lions side that will take to the field tomorrow morning and a win would get Hansen thinking. Hansen of course is cranking up the pressure on Gatland with his little jibes. Oh what fun. The All Blacks squad looks incredibly strong and in my view the only Lions payer who would get into an All Black squad right now is Faletau.
The European cup draw looks interesting. Pool 2 looks a cracker with Clermont, Saracens, Ospreys and Saints doing battle.
Must go Hurricanes v Chiefs on SKY right now. Back tomorrow after the Lions game with more insightful crap comment.
Thursday 8th June - 09:20
Don't forget your Summer Ball tickets. Just a few places left. VERY, VERY sadly I won't be there this year; family reasons. It is a GREAT night out so go on treat yourself. Details on this website.
Thanks to the very hard work of Sandra, Jacqui and the Exec team the club continues to build on its reputation as a great venue for events and parties. The club has vacancies for casual bar staff right now. Again all details on this website.
Finally before we get back to the Lions don't forget to vote. The polls are open.
The overall view from the pundits was very much in line with my drivel. Many had Lawes as Lions man of the match and I can understand that. He did play very well. There is much talk about playing to the Lions strength in order to defeat the All Blacks. That strength is power. I for one can see that working BUT you have to also stop gifting the ball to the All Blacks with silly penalties and wayward kicking. Your defence needs to be watertight and even with a power game you still have to keep the ball moving and away from the contact area at pace. The All Blacks are the masters at the 'dark arts' in slowing the ball down. Right now I don't see any flair or inventiveness and power will only take you so far.
The other aspect of the reporting that worries me is the obsession with Sonny Bill Williams. The All Blacks are a TEAM. The lions focus on stopping one man it opens the door for the other 14 to rip you apart. Yes he was superb for the Auckland but...........
The Lions have now moved to Christchurch. Sadly in 2011 Christchurch was a no-go area after the devasting earthquake. The closest we got was the airport. Thankfully the city in the heart of the Province of Canterbury is recovering and the Crusaders are certainly flying the flag for them both. Gatland has selected a strong looking squad for this one led by Alun Wyn Jones. George North and Jonathan Davies make their first appearances. Farrell is at #10 partnered with Connor Murray. Biased yes, but I still see Webb as the better option at #9 right now. Ben Te'o has another chnace to stake a claim, what with Payne injured again and Henshaw not yet at his best. Alun Wyn and Kruis in the second row looks a test pairing all day long BUT Itoje and Lawes have put down a very BIG marker for those #4 and #5 shirts. Looks a good back row with the Irish pair of O'Mahony and O'Brien alongside Taulupe O'Faletau. It's a strong bench with Sexton, who has much to prove, and Webb waiting in the wings. Owens and Itoje are also named and if Gatland is bold he might give Itoje a run on the flank at some point. With a back three of North, Hogg and Williams I do want see the ball out wide where they can use their power to set up good field positions for the Lions to build on.
One talking point from yesterday much debated in the Bleater household was whether the Lions should have tapped and gone instead of kicking to the corner with that last gasp penalty. Hindsight is wonderful but keeping the possession would have made a lot more sense. Yes the lineout had functioned very well but there is always the chance the opposition will steal the ball. Can't change it now but let's hope the army of analysts Gatland has at his disposal bring that to his attention.
Before moving on Biggar failed the HIA 'but will be ok for next week'. WRONG, wrong, wrong. The boy is putting himself at long term risk. He must take more time out me thinks.
Lots of other big games this weekend. Japan v Romania, Canada v Georgia oh! and of course Argentina v England. More on these tomorrow.
Must go, the polling booths are beckoning. Still undecided. Kim Jong-un or Mao Tse Tung, except one of them is dead and the other is mad. I might just vote for Boaty McBoatface.
Wednesday 7th June - 11:40
There is only one place to start and that is with the winning Auckland try. The speed of thought, the quality of the off-load, and the pace with ball in hand was magnificent. Ihaia West off Sonny Bill-Williams was a piece of genius with West finishing it brilliantly.
Man of the match, in my view by a mile, was Sonny Bill-Williams. What a player. Reiko Ioane was also great throughout and unlucky not to score a second try in the corner.
Rob Howley wanted 'chaos', what he got at times was 'chaotic'. Jack Nowell was poor, and that is being polite. Flying out of the line is fine if you smash your opposite number to the ground. Missing the tackle is woeful. Nowell also lacked positional discipline which hurt the Lions twice and his handling left a lot to be desired. He can't be held responsible for the defeat however. The penalty count was too high again and the work in open play was cumbersome at times. There was a lack of incisive runnning from deep too. It must be said the Auckland Blues used every trick in the book to prevent the Lions going forward. The other area of concern is the kicking from hand. It was inaccurate and didn't put the Blues under pressure. All it did was present good ball on a plate for Auckland to attack at pace.
Let's look at the many positives. Firstly this is the first time this Lions side have played together and let's not forget the side was picked not on form but on the basis they haven't appeared on tour yet. Rhys Webb looked comfortable and was a real live wire getting the ball away from contact quickly and accurately. He had a cracking game. Justin Tipuric, especially in the first half stood out. Lawes and Itoje played very well and staked a claim for test selection. Itoje in particular was impactful in attack and defence. Owens, Cole and McGrath did well in the tight, and in defence, but I did like the impact that Marler and Sinckler made when they came on. I was slightly disappointed with Payne and Henshaw and the lack of real momentum they were able to generate but that is also a function of Auckland's excellent defence. Payne, to be fair, was denied in the corner with a foot in touch. Whilst in the loose there are some questionmarks the scrum looked solid and the lineout genrally functioned well. Not a great result but much to build on.
I thought the referee helped to make this a good game to watch. He was precise, empathetic and generally got things spot on. He used his TMO effectively and I liked the way he spoke to the captains, especially after Sexton whinged about a forward pass. To Owens; 'I've checked. The pass was flat and I am ok with that.' Very well done sir. He also got the Liam Williams decisions spot on. The yellow card for the second reckless tackle in the air was the only option.
Going back to the selection I thought Biggar was playing well until he went off for a HIA. This is a big concern for him primarily because he has had a spate of these in recent months. I sincerely hope he makes the right decision supported by the medical staff. Sexton looked sharper but again for me there was something lacking. I can't put my finger on it but he just doesn't seem to be fully fit and appears to lack that decisiveness and the swagger we've previously come to marvel at.
Lions man of the match...... pick from Webb, Itoje, Lawes, Tipuric. For me I'd go Itoje.
There will be a different side again on Saturday with Gatland keeping to his word of everyone playing at least one game out of the first three. What needs to change? Fewer penalties, more accuracy going forward, more width, build on the lineout and scrum, and stop gifting the oppostion the ball with wayward kicking.
Remember it is the tests that count.
One touristy point. The Lions didn't go straight from Whagarei to Auckland they first went north to the Bay of Island and The Waitangi Treaty Grounds, one of the most important Maori cultural locations in the country. Mrs Bleater and I stayed at the Copthorne Resort within the grounds in 2011 and I can tell you it is a marvellous place. The war canoe, the meeting house and the treaty house all spectacular, and the location itself is stunning. Stuck in the office with time on your hands? Go on to the 'interweb' and look it up.
Monday 5th June - 17:10
Couldn't wait until Wednesday to post this.
Our MP Nus Ghani visits our stand.
In addition there are two great photos on this website of what we are doing to make rugby appealling to the people of Crowborough and the surrounding area.
In addition to Nigel Jarvis and his sons Josh and Dan thanks go to the following families; McGuinley, Hillman, Picco, Dixon, Bavin, Huddle and Shortland plus my anger manager Mr Eddie Bridges for their support. THANK YOU all. A credit to CRFC and rugby as a whole.
Monday 5th June - 10:30
A couple of club 'shout-outs' to start with.
The Friday Club's lunch at the Kings Arms, Rotherfield last Friday was a splendid affair. Lots and lots of wine and banter enhanced by an excellent meal. Rick 'The Bard' Howe summed things up by saying what a splendid job the group do led by 'Damper' Sayer and Dave Bristow and what a thoroughly nice bunch of committed blokes we are. 'Here', 'here' is what I say. (For the record being an opinionated big mouth I did put my foot in it again but that's a story for another day).
Nigel Jarvis and his band of wonderful club volunteers manned our stand at Crowborough's annual street market, this year with an Italian theme. As always they did an impressive job selling our great game and our great club to the thousands of visitors in the town. Great job Nigel. THANK YOU to you and the team for a splendid job well done.
Warren Gatland has been true to his word giving every player a start in the first three games of the tour. Ken Owens leads the strong looking side with some players looking to cement a place in the test squad. Webb and Biggarhead at 9 and 10 is sensible, as is the all Irish centre partnership of Henshaw and Payne, and the all English second row combination of Itoje and Lawes. I don't think any of these will be the test pairings but pairing players who have confidence and knowledge of each other makes very good sense. James Haskell, a late call up, gets his first opportunity to shine and CJ stander will be keen to put his poor Pro12 performance behind him. The two players I am eager to watch as I feel they are real test contenders are Tipuric and Daly. Halfpenny, Nowell, McGrath, and Cole make up the starting 15.
Gatland's bench isn't the strongest available but Sexton will at some point get his chance to redeem himself and get his game back on track and Sinckler and Marler will also have the opportunity to prove their worth.
Looking at the 23 man squad it lacks a certain 'je ne sais quois'. With the exception of Webb, and possibly Tipuric, Itoje and Nowell there seems to be a lack of flair, unpredictability. It strikes me as being a powerful side that with enough ball will grind a victory out but I don't expect the expansive game I think the Lions need. That said if Biggarhead can release the boys in the centre and Nowell and Daly demand the ball we could get an open game.
Auckland Blues coach, and All Black great Tana Umaga has picked a strong side. Plenty of All Black test experience will be on show and determined to get one over the Lions. Sonny Bill-Williams is the big name attraction but his participation is in doubt. A late fitness test is on the cards for him.
The game will be played in Eden Park the venue for two of the three tests. The Lions will have travelled down National Highway 1 from Whangarei to Auckland. The wonderful lush pastures and rolling hills give way to a modern European style city. As the road approaches the Harbour Bridge you get a glimpse of the impressive North Harbour Stadium on your right and then on the bridge you get your fist view of 'the city of sails' on your left. The iconic Sky Tower soars majestically above the city. As you enter the city the masts of yachts of all shapes and sizes dominate the scenery. The city is compact and the highlight for the tourist has to be the Waterfront with its array of bars and restaurants. The Viaduct Harbour was where Mrs Bleater and I spent many a happy hour eating and drinking. By the way the view from the top of the Sky Tower is amazing, and watching people hurl themselves off it attached only to what looks like wire the thickness of a coat hanger beggars belief. The Auckland War Memorial Museum is also worthy of a visit. We loved it in there.
Eden Park is a multi use stadium hosting rugby, cricket and occasionally soccer. It is open at the ends with huge stands running down each side. It is easily accessed from the city by the wonderfully clean and efficient and CHEAP rail system. On match days the bus is another great alternative.
Can't wait for this one. No blog tomorrow but back on Wednesday post match.
Sunday 4th June - 10:30
We are waking up to another mindless attack on innocent individuals. People going about their daily lives, doing what Londoners do, only to be struck down by scum who disagree with the basic premise of democracy and the right to live in peace. These killers are a blot on humanity and need to be eradicated. That of course is easier said than done when the attacks are so random and on 'soft' targets. Our thoughts must be with the victims and their families and friends, including those of the terrible bombing in Manchester. We must also applaud the police, the ambulance and the hospital staff who responded with speed and skill to bring the incident to a close and subsequently treat the victims.
Again easier said than done but we must not give in to terrorism and extremism. We must go about our daily lives as best we can. As we go about our business today it would be appropriate to take a moment to reflect on the horrendous position the victims and their families now find themselves in.
For many of us rugby is part of our lives and the Lions in New Zealand being our current focus of attention. The general concensus of those who write about the game seem consistent in their appraisal of yetserday's match. The New Zealand Barbarians played above expectation and highlighted the impressive depth of talent the All Blacks have to draw on. Bryn Gatland for obvious reasons; his dad being head coach of the Lions and his performance gets most coverage but Andersen-Heather, Laulala and local boy Matich all stood out.
The two phrases that stand out in the assessment of the Lions performance are 'the lead time into the first game was too short' and 'jet lag played its part'. I for one accept those as excuses BUT it was far from the performance the Lions should have delivered.
For the Lions the player who stood out was former Newport Gwent Dragons but now Bath favourite Taulupe Faletau. He was tremendous in everything he did. The player I failed to mention yesterday was Kyle Sinckler. Except for the aberration of taking a quick tap penalty he justified his selection in spades. On the other side of the coin there was general agreement that Johnny Sexton was under par and now slips behind Farrell in the race for the number 10 slot.
Last night I watched the Chiefs vs Warratahs and for me this crystalised the issue Gatland and the Lions face. Basically the Lions have to be much more expansive in their game plan, the ball must be moved from the contact areas with speed and accuracy, tackles cannot be missed, and discipline has to be of the highest quality. As the Warratahs proved against the Chiefs if you do that then opportunities will present themselves and you can compete against the very best on even terms. The Chiefs then showed that if you fail in any of the above aspects of the game the opposition will put you mercilessly to the sword.
The Lions now travel to Auckland where they face the Blues on Wednesday. A preview of that tomorrow.
Can I make a special mention of Ian Burgess and his lovely wife who are travelling around 'the land of the long white cloud' in a camper van with Gulliver's Sports Travel. I know having spoken with them in the months prior to departure they have been looking forward to this for a long time. I am certain they will be having an amazing time. Likewise our good friend and referee Huw Jenkins is travelling with Venatours (Gareth Coochy Chilcott's company). It would be great to hear any news on how their travels are going.
I have been asked on several occasions why me and Mrs Bleater didn't go. Simple, we had been there in 2011 and had an amazing time, the weather as witnessed yesterday can be cold and wet in June and July, and finally we are off to OZ for a wedding in November so put simply you can't afford to do everything all the time.
The other big sporting even was the Champions League Final in Cardiff. A pretty good game of football with Welshman Gareth Bale being just one of a very, very few players in the history of European football collecting a European winners medal in their city of birth. It was a shame that the game was spoilt by a moment worthy of an Oscar by Sergio Ramos. His reaction to the merest the touch on his shoulder and slight contact with his foot saw him collapse to the floor as if he had been hit with a baseball bat. PATHETIC!!!!!
Back tomorrow. Keep calm and carry on and think of those affected by the atrocities of last night.
Saturday 3rd June - 11:30
It's hard to know where to start and how harsh to be on the Lions, or is that not fair. The New Zealand Barbarians were excellent and didn't allow the Lions to play. Bryn Gatland at #10 played with aplomb and was the general marshalling his army of conscripts against the professional battlegroup from British and Irish ranks. Gatland's vision was very good, his ball handling and kicking from hand accurate, epitomised by that up & under putting the visitors under severe pressure. The collective effort of the Barbarians was superb and in my view a win for them would have been a fair result.
The Lions were at times their own worst enemy. Ball retention was poor, the penalty count unacceptable, and basic mistakes too frequent. I personally believe that the very short preparation time played its part and do not underestimate the impact of jet lag. Having endured/enjoyed the long trip to New Zealand it is exhausting and it does take some time to adjust.
The scoreline could have been very different if the chances had been taken. The Stuart Hogg pass to Anthony Watson a classic example of a missed opportunity. The Lions were held up over the line on three occasions and on a different day they could have been scores getting the scoreboard advancing.
Prior to the tour some, particularly the Irish fans, criticised the number of Welshmen in the squad. Today I thought the all Welsh back row played very well. Ross Moriarty and Sam Warburton did what was expected and more. Taulupe Faletau was immense. In attack dynamic and impactful. In defense forceful and resolute. That last ditch tackle turning the attacker over to hold up the ball up over the line was remarkable. Him and Bryn Gatland were the men of the match.
Elsewhere Alun Wyn Jones played well and Ben Te'O justified his selection. He made some good breaks and defended well. He isn't lightening fast and unlikely to challenge Jonathan Davies and Robbie Henshaw on current form. The subs coming off the bench made a difference with Owen Farrell, albeit against a tiring Barbarians side, being the catalyst for an improved showing from the Lions. In my view Sexton is beginning to show his age and maybe, just maybe, his star is on the wane.
Stuart Barnes, Will Greenwood and Sean Fitzpatrick all highlighted the point that if the Lions thought this opener was tough then what lies ahead are massive challenges. The Lions will have to up their game significantly and crucially be more accurate and most importantly more expansive in their play. If Gatland persists with power then the Lions could be doomed to a depressing tour with only one win to their name. The Scarlets showed what can be achieved if you play with width and imagination, even against the most succesful defense in the Pro12 set up. The Lions have the talent and ball handlers from 1 to 15 to achieve this.
More reflection tomorrow after reading what the expert pundits have to say about the game.
Friday 2nd June - 07:00
Here I am after my break on the wonderful island of Grenada in the Caribbean. What a splendid place; great people, great food, amazing beaches, brilliant hotel. Last Saturday it was a choice between watching Exeter v Wasps on ESPN or sitting on the beach with a cold beer. The beach won by a long way. A great result for Exeter beating big spending Wasps in extra time. I understand it was a pretty good game.
With regard to the Munster v Scarlets game there was no choice. This game was not covered by