The All Blacks invincibility has been somewhat dented – that would seem to be the outcome of the drawn British and Irish Lions Tour. Even the Welsh fancy their chances now as per recent media reports and I suppose if you place certain Welsh players and their coaches into the equation and add a splash of Scarlets magic then they have a point!
In my view the tour proved two big points:
1/ In a world of arguably too much rugby a competitive Lions tour is a compelling proposition (who could have doubted it) and brings out the best in the sport. All the tourists of 2017 should be very proud of themselves.
2/ The All Blacks are not playing a different game from the rest of us – or at least can be brought down to earth.
As for the third Test, a few reality checks. The Men in Black should have had the game won at the half hour, absent a Lions fightback of at least three scores on the bounce. Uncharacteristic errors in what they call now the ‘Red Zone’ which were attributed to strong Lions defence but they still should have scored a couple more tries. The All Blacks backline had been significantly restructured so perhaps understandable, but once the chances were gone and the Lions stayed in range the pressure kicked in for both sides.
The rest was all down to resilience and courage from a touring side who could see history in front of them but in honesty were a little short in all departments. Oh for another week together.
The tourists showed how to stem the All Blacks game flow, much has been written on it and the videos will be pored over by the world’s rugby coaches. They also played some great rugby of their own.
Man of the Match had to be the 20 year old débutant, Jordie Barrett. Scored one try, made another and almost scored the winner. Had he been given the kicking tee, game over. He can also play centre and has great pace and awareness. As Steve Hansen says, this is a young team which will get better and the Barrett boys will be at the heart of that. They remain favourites for 2019.
People also need to consider that post World Cup International Rugby has been at a low ebb. South Africa, Australia and Argentina have been rebuilding and it’s proved to be tough for them. The hardest opposition that the All Blacks have faced has been Ireland to whom they lost once and could have again in the return match.
Looking ahead, England in particular will be licking their lips at the prospect of reeling them in. 10 Englishmen in the Lions match day squad, countless others knocking on the door and a two Test win over Argentina with many top players at home. Eddie Jones’ main issue is selection and tactics – as usual! He now has at least three of the 5 world class leaders he says he needs and possibly many more. I thought Anthony Watson looked very dangerous with ball in hand, and his all round game in great shape under pressure…… he just needs the ball and we all know where he has to play for that to happen.
All the Home Nations Squads will take something from the tour, and Scotland’s new Number 4 position in the world ensures that next year’s Six Nations will remain super competitive.
I would say let us enjoy a good rugby-free summer but pre-season training is already underway. The excitement of the All Blacks upcoming tour is in the air – not just for Wales, Scotland and France. The Barbarians await at Twickenham and the team sheet may be an interesting one.