Lions tour: Lions must find ways to defuse dangerous offloads

Andy Farrell, the Lions defence coach, is attempting to find ways to stop the Kiwi offloads.
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Andy Farrell, the Lions defence coach, is attempting to find ways to stop the Kiwi offloads.

Given their distinct lack of attacking ambition, it should not surprise the Lions defence is proving a major source of pride. It alone is the foundation of the belief they will take into the test series. 

Seven tries conceded from five games is a decent effort and, yet, one particular aspect will still be causing worries.  

The 32-10 win over New Zealand Maori in Rotorua no doubt set defensive expectations ahead of the tests, with just one try leaked from a George North fumble after a Nehe Milner-Skudder grubber in behind.

Otherwise, the Lions' squeeze tactics worked exceedingly well, nullifying the potent Maori backline.

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But for all the enthusing about the effectiveness of defence coach Andy Farrell's line speed, the Highlanders and Blues still managed to expose the Lions' vulnerability to the offload.

In Auckland the Blues threw 14 offloads to the Lions' four - a couple of those in Ihaia West's memorable match-winning try.

In Dunedin the Highlanders chucked out 18 to the Lions' nine. Not only does it highlight the clash of styles, but also that rush defence alone won't be enough to contain the All Blacks.

On Tuesday in Hamilton the Chiefs will give the Lions second-stringers a taste of what the test team can expect to confront this weekend at Eden Park.

Farrell believes the Lions are forming a defensive identity based around big hits, targeting the breakdown and rushing off the line.

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"They enjoy it; they buzz off one another, they want to show their intent and that's building nicely."

But, after watching the All Blacks blitz Samoa, Farrell also appreciates New Zealand's adlibbing threat. 

"They were pretty impressive weren't they? Ball in hand I thought there was some outstanding attacking play and it's up to us to make sure they don't get what they want and play at the pace of the game we want to play at.

"It's the unstructured stuff they are fantastic at; from turnover ball and from offloads. You see Sonny Bill [Williams] coming off both feet and getting into space and offloading the ball. We talk a lot about our tackle entry and how effective we can be individually but sometimes it's the two man hit and the job of the assistant tackler so we've been working on that as well.

"The All Blacks are the best team in the world and rightly so but look at our squad and it's full of winners; guys that are used to winning and know how to win. They're in a new side that's been developing over the last three or four weeks comfortably and I think we're going to be a helluva side."

During his time with the Highlanders James Haskell soaked up insights into New Zealand's general quest to keep the ball alive. Since returning home he notes such a style is difficult to replicate in the English winter when the rain comes in sideways and grounds can be heavy underfoot. But having been named on the blindside against the Chiefs, he knows better than most what is coming both from them and the All Blacks this week.    

"That kind of rugby you'll see it cause problems all day long," Haskell said.

"Defensively, if you get things in place early you can deal with that. There's a lot of guys using footwork out here and you've got to be prepared to see that as a threat.

"A lot of that comes from how well you tackle, set the breakdown, react and how well switched on you are. You can't go into defence worrying about the offloads the whole time because you end up standing off people but we have a plan to deal with that kind of stuff. Every team does. It's one thing having a plan, it's another executing it."

Indeed. Such a conundrum could trouble the Lions for the remainder of the tour.

 - Stuff

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