Eyes On: Chiefs v British and Irish Lions

In the final game before the first Test against the All Blacks, the Lions built on Saturday’s win against the Maori All Blacks with a convincing 6-34 win against an under-strength Chiefs side in Hamilton to earn their first midweek win of the tour. This close to the first Test, it is unlikely that many (if any) of these players will feature on Saturday, however it is possible that some players performances in this game may have brought them into contention for later Test matches.

For the last time before the Test series begins, here are my thoughts on the latest game of the tour. This is something that I have written Wednesday on my lunch break and after work (I wasn’t able to watch the game until Tuesday night), so any speculation regarding the 23 selected for the first Test will be a bit outdated by the time this goes up.

 

Peaking at the right time

I think it’s fair to say that this was the Lions’ best performance on tour so far. Against the Maoris, the Lions took advantage of the poor handling conditions to dominate the game through a dominant pack and a super-effective defence. On Tuesday, the weather conditions allowed more expansive handling, and the Lions added an expansive attack to the strong defence.

Barring a couple of penalties – including Joe Marler’s stupid late tackle – and a few late breaks when the Chiefs started throwing the ball around late in the game, there was very little to trouble the Lions in defence, who forced Stephen Donald to play deep behind the gain line much like Damian McKenzie had to at the weekend.

The forwards proved their might with a penalty try from a driving maul and were also able to win a scrum penalty with Jared Payne deputising at flanker while Marler was in the sin bin. I also really liked the gamesmanship of the forwards making so much noise at the opposition line out that it was hard for the Chiefs to communicate their calls.

The attacking play was probably the best it has been all tour, with Jack Nowell’s second try by far the best try to be scored in all of the games. Jared Payne’s try off the back of Liam Williams’ incisive run – he looked so much better at fullback – was a great show of how dangerous the tourists can be. However they still butchered chances, Williams dropping a Biggar pass 5 metres out in the first half and Tommy Seymour’s pass to Jared Payne’s knees following a great break near the end, so there is still improvement needed for the Tests.

Winging it

I have mentioned previously how there have been no standout performances from the Lions wingers so far this tour. Tuesday’s game was certainly an exception. Jack Nowell has taken a bit of flak from fans and pundits on this tour, but his performance against the Chiefs was probably the best of any Lions winger on this tour! It felt as if the attacking style in this game was different and he was given the freedom to play his natural game. He was more than happy to come off his wing and frequently beat the first man or mad ground in the tackle. His 2 tries in this game have made him the joint top try scorer – level with penalty tries – for the Lions on this tour. I think this performance has probably been too late for a place in the first Test, but he may have just put his hand up for later weeks.

On the left wing, Elliot Daly was up for it from the first second. He started with a thumping tackle directly from the kickoff and was a menace down the left flank all through the 60 minutes he was on the field. He had a couple of good breaks and was heavily involved in the build-up to Nowell’s second try. The fact that he was one of the few players Gatland substituted suggests to me that he will feature in the Test 23, however the fact that Gatland was willing to bring him back on when Jared Payne was injured makes me think that he will be in the bench on Saturday rather than the starting XV.

Liam Williams had a great game at fullback. He did not have too much to do defensively, but what he did was done well. In attack he ran some great attacking lines and his play to set up Jared Payne’s try was sublime. Had he been given more minutes at 15 during this tour, I could have imagined him competing for the Test 15 position, however I feel that playing the full 80 minutes in this game means that for the first Test he will either be left out or make the bench.

Making up the numbers

There was a lot of controversy at the weekend when Warren Gatland called up 6 players from Wales and Scotland to make up the numbers for the remaining midweek games. While I was against the decision to bring them in, I was very surprised and disappointed to see that Allan Dell was the only one to make it onto the pitch – and even that was only as a prop was needed during Marler’s sin bin. It’s great to see substitutes not just being trotted on at prearranged times but I feel for the lads who have probably questioned whether they deserve to be there and have now basically been shown they will only make it on the pitch as a last resort. What surprised me the most was that the coaches decided to bring Elliot Daly back on for the last few minutes to replace the injured Jared Payne as opposed to bringing on Finn Russell for his Lions debut. Hopefully they’ll get a chance to make it on the pitch against the Hurricanes next week.

 

The Test Squad

From what I have seen over recent weeks, this is the squad that I expect Warren Gatland to pick for Saturday’s first Test. Talk from New Zealand suggests that players like Owen Farrell and Sam Warburton will be fit for selection, so I have based this on the assumption everyone is available.

  1. Mako Vunipola
  2. Jamie George
  3. Tadhg Furlong
  4. Maro Itoje
  5. George Kruis
  6. Sam Warburton
  7. Sean O’Brien
  8. Taulupe Faletau
  9. Conor Murray
  10. Owen Farrell
  11. George North
  12. Ben Te’o
  13. Jonathan Davies
  14. Anthony Watson
  15. Leigh Halfpenny
  16. Ken Owens
  17. Jack McGrath
  18. Kyle Sinckler
  19. Alun Wyn Jones
  20. Peter O’Mahony
  21. Rhys Webb
  22. Johnny Sexton
  23. Elliot Daly

 

What were your thoughts on the game? Do you think I missed anything? What would your squad be for the first Test? Comment on here or feel free to tweet me @PS_tetheridge

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