Outclassed. Outmuscled. Outgunned. The British & Irish Lions first Test against the almighty All Blacks ended as many expected, in defeat, but a rather resounding defeat.
Steve Hansen’s indomitable New Zealand force ran out 30-15 winners at their Eden Park fortress and if the Lions are going to salvage a victory on this tour, they must mix up their selections and discovery a much superior dynamism ahead of Saturday’s rematch in Wellington.
Ahead of the opening encounter of the three-Test series, the omission of Maro Itoje was one of the headline selection discussions, with Warren Gatland preferring Welshman Alun Wyn Jones, much to his discredit.
Make no mistake, Itoje must start this weekend if the Lions are to have any chance of beating the All Blacks.
Undoubtedly the best forward in Europe over the last 18 months, Itoje offers a physicality and dynamism an aging Jones simply cannot – add to that a dismal display from the Ospreys captain and changes are inevitable.
Gatland’s choices in emptying the bench were also questionable. Peter O’Mahony, the monstrous Munsterman who led the Lions out in Auckland, was withdrawn despite winning every lineout that came his way, replaced by tour captain Sam Warburton, who cannot compare in set piece statistics.
Jamie George’s Lions debut was also cut short, in my opinion. Hitting every lineout target and clearly having more in the tank to give, but was again taken out of the fray.
You can expect to see changes to the pack for the next Test – Gatland must select on form and bring more physicality up front if New Zealand are to be halted.
Yes, it was a drab performance all in all, but there were flashes of brilliance from the Lions backs.
A sensational solo break from Liam Williams, eventually aided by excellent support play from Jonathan Davies before Sean O’Brien was sent in for the Lions’ first try.
That said, it was a mere glimmer of hope – hope that died quickly. From front to back, the All Blacks boasted world class handling skills and exposed every opportunity presented to them by a Lions side who quite simply conceded too many penalties and created little.
Conor Murray was targeted, Gatland claims, but truth is neither he nor English half-back partner Owen Farrell were able to stamp their authority because they were outthought by a stylish and imposing New Zealand side.
We can only hope Gatland will analyse his flaws effectively and ensure his next squad selection reflects a process of learning.
Hold tight. We play the waiting game until we can discuss the next starting XV.