The safe option is to play territory and defend, hoping the Aussies will attack from deep and give away penalties in their own half. The bold call would be to go out and play some rugby, thinking if the Lions can score three tries on Saturday they will win.
But they must figure out how to score tries again, and I think they should adopt a similar strategy to the first Test in Brisbane. If they decide to play like they did yesterday, they must be more clinical, earn more penalties and be further ahead at half-time. Three points up wasn’t enough here – six could have been if they had backed it up with all-out attack in the final stages.
The Lions looked so up for this match in the first 20 minutes and were the more physical side, dominating the collisions and bossing the breakdown. Everyone was getting stuck in and they secured some important early turnovers. It seemed referee Craig Joubert was getting the game back to what the Lions were used to – and off the back of that it looked like we would start to play.
But that didn’t happen. I thought Jonathan Davies and Brian O’Driscoll were pretty quiet in midfield and the ball rarely got into the hands of our danger men out wide, Tommy Bowe and George North. We seemed to lack the usual cutting edge back-play we have grown accustomed to on this tour. It was as if we had changed mindset – looking to win penalties and then rely on Leigh Halfpenny to get us all the points we need.
Australia were taking all the risks and playing all the rugby. I thought they might blow it themselves because of that and it was brave play. Especially on 71 minutes when they opted for the scrum and called a pretty audacious move with James O’Connor trying to slip inside before he threw a wild pass to Israel Folau. That was a big moment – it could have been a defining moment – and we got out of jail.
But they came again and attacked with a well-worked move to score the game’s only try. O’Connor ran into the space between Davies and O’Driscoll, attracting both of them. If there is one guy who you can rely on to make a tackle it is O’Driscoll, but Davies hesitated and got into no-man’s-land with Adam Ashley-Cooper cutting a great line to go through.
Christian Leali’ifano stepped up to write himself into the history books – for the Aussies it will always be remembered for his conversion to win the game – and although Halfpenny had a shot to win it I think he knew it would have to be such a sweet strike to kick it further than he has in a long time.
Australia deserved it because they went out to win it while the Lions were holding on. It begs the question: did the Lions miss their opportunity? It was 61 minutes when the Lions went out to 16-9 and from then on they just tried to slow the game down even more.
If you do that you have to be so clinical by playing to the corners and getting the line of defence up.
Against most sides that would close out the game. But 19 minutes is a long time to play against Australia. And although the Aussies kept spilling the ball and ruining their own momentum, you simply can’t deny their spirit and will to win.
There is a big question now over how the Lions play next week, because the centres were pretty anonymous. The big call, and I don’t think Warren Gatland is afraid of making these kind of decisions, is to put Jamie Roberts back in or play Manu Tuilagi at 12, with Jonathan Davies outside.
But with Sam Warburton a real doubt and Paul O’Connell already out, I don’t think Gatland will do that because you can imagine O’Driscoll is the player the other guys look to. And if he is talking confidently within the camp this week they will take inspiration from him. He has been, and will be, integral to this squad. As much as dropping him would be the right call in a lot of ways I don’t think that will happen.
Gatland said he was resting Mike Phillips in case the scenario arose where we go to Sydney needing to win – and it has. Ben Youngs didn’t do anything wrong particularly, but I don’t think he did enough to keep the spot. So I think Phillips will come back in to add his experience. Plus I think the Aussies are too reliant on Will Genia.
If he isn’t firing then they go to Israel Folau – and after that they are stymied. So Phillips could play a big role next week if his knee is 100 per cent.
Genia is the catalyst for everything the Wallabies do. O’Connor is a great talent but he doesn’t dominate the game. They had enough ball to do that here but because he can’t kick and isn’t a seasoned fly-half, it forced the Aussies to carry a lot of ball and take risks. And when they do that in their own half they can concede penalties, which happened in the first half.
But the Aussies deserved to win because of the ambition they showed. The Lions came out of the first Test and said they were disappointed despite winning because they didn’t feel as if they’d played to their best. And again in this game they must feel like they didn’t do themselves justice. There was very little attacking play, there was more kicking to gain territory and putting the Aussies under pressure.
The second Test is always the most brutal due to the nature of the situation – one team up, one team down. And a team with their backs against the wall, under pressure, generally have a bigger incentive. The Lions have a tough job now because what bigger incentive did they need? Surely finally to get the monkey off their back by winning a series after 16 years is enough.
Now they have a couple of days rest but must get themselves up. Nearly every head was down and they have to be positive again. The coaches have to earn the corn by making these guys believe.
Training has to be sharp and they must work out a way to go through the phases like the Australians – and create some try-scoring positions.
Last week they created three or four very good opportunities and they must work out how to score tries again. They are unlikely to win without that and I think the mindset must be to go out and score tries, free themselves and take it to the Aussies.
As a player you want to be immortal and win a Lions series. You realise how big it is when you speak to the players who won the 2003 World Cup and also won on the 1997 Lions tour – and some say the Lions tour was the pinnacle of their career because you are selected to be the best of the best.
These guys need to soak all that pressure up, understand the magnitude of it while not letting it affect the way they play – and that is very difficult. But what a challenge, what an opportunity.
As much as the Lions were lucky last week, they were unlucky this week. The Aussies have momentum now and are favourites. But the Lions have every chance of winning.
They have a choice – do we play an English-based game and hope to win by penalties, or play a Welsh game which is running more and looking for tries. It’s too close to call and that’s why we love this game. I just hope they accept the pressure, play with ambition like Australia did here and show the world why the Lions are so special.
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