Lions tour: 'Smug blanket settling over NZ' after All Blacks' Lions test win

A diet of success has seen some All Blacks fans become too smug, writes Mark Reason.
PHOTOSPORT

A diet of success has seen some All Blacks fans become too smug, writes Mark Reason.

OPINION: Come on, guys. You were magnificent on the pitch. Hard, skillful and intelligent. Everything we revere about the All Blacks. But far too many people in New Zealand really need to learn how to win. Listen to the Lions who always sing when they're losing. Be Irish for a day.

A lot of Kiwis have been in touch since Saturday night who now actually want the Lions to win the second test. They hate this smug blanket that is settling over the country. They wince at all the gloating, all the high pitched crowing. Doodle, doodle, doo.

It's unthinkable, but there are blokes and blokesses deep in the New Zealand undergrowth who have become Lions supporters for a week. They are the new black. They are the folk who used to turn out to cheer for the Lions when they toured apartheid South Africa.

The All Blacks celebrate a try against the Lions at Eden Park.
GETTY IMAGES

The All Blacks celebrate a try against the Lions at Eden Park.

Even Steve Hansen had a couple of moments in press conference that were unbearably smug. You couldn't see Wayne Smith or Brian Lochore or Fred Allen behaving like that. Hansen sets the example and just a touch more humility, something beyond the usual we're taking nothing for granted, wouldn't go amiss.

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But how are the Lions going to come back from this? How are the Lions going to salvage the second test from the rabble-rubble that finished the first? The Lions were so good for so long on Saturday night, but for a period they were almost out on their feet.

Steve Hansen had "some unbearably smug moments'' after the All Blacks' test win over the Lions.
DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES

Steve Hansen had "some unbearably smug moments'' after the All Blacks' test win over the Lions.

The first big question is who will captain the side? You expect that it will still be Peter O'Mahony. But as predicted the All Blacks ruled the referee on Saturday night. They were a side full of captains. The Lions were a side full of people who wanted to be captain.
At one point a clearly irritated Peyper told the Lions that he had "six people telling me what to do." It was probably nearer six thousand as some of the Lions support made their feelings known as the decisions started to flow the All Blacks' way. But this is test match rugby and the Lions discipline wasn't good enough.

Both Warren Gatland and O'Mahony spoke afterwards about the number of soft penalties given away that allowed the All Blacks out from choking positions. When O'Mahony was asked about the referee he spoke of "a lot of frustration." There was then a pause. A very long pause.

Finally he conceded that in the heat of battle you question some assessments. He then said, slightly lamely, that the Lions players were asking about technical issues. Some of the conversations seemed a great deal more heated than that. The big scrum that the All Blacks had in the second half was clearly the result of an illegal angle from Wyatt Crockett, but it was one of many things that Peyper predictably got wrong.

DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT GETTY IMAGES HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES NIGEL MARPLE/REUTERS DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES DAVID ROGERS/GETTY IMAGES LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES ANDREW CORNAGA/PHOTOSPORT DAVID GRAY/REUTERS PHIL WALTER/GETTY IMAGES James Crombie/INPHO HANNAH PETERS/GETTY IMAGES

The game's end left Lions fans dejected.

The match was an enormous success for the All Blacks.

Rieko Ioane scores his second try.

Sam Whitelock claims a lineout ball.

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 24: Rieko Ioane of the All Blacks dives over to score his team's second try during the first test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park on June 24, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Sonny Bill Williams is tackled by the Lions.

An injured Ryan Crotty.

A scrum packs down.

The Lions' Liam Williams makes a break for it.

Beauden Barrett tackles the Lions' Jonathan Davies.

Sean O'Brien scores the Lions' first try of the match.

Owen Farrell of the Lions kicks a penalty, to get the Lions on the board.

Codie Taylor of the All Blacks celebrates after scoring a try.

Codie Taylor scores the first try of the match.

Elliot Daly of the Lions is tackled short of the tryline by Israel Dagg.

The All Blacks perform the haka.

The All Blacks line up at the start of the match.

Lions fans roar in the crowd.

Lions coach Warren Gatland smiles before the match.

Lions fans soak up the atmosphere prior to the first test.

The Lions Den Supporters Village, The Cloud, Auckland.

The DHL Lions Series trophy.

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The Lions also desperately need to slow down the pace of the game. At times they were sucking in huge gulps. Some of them, such as Alun Wyn Jones, were even gasping after a quarter of the match. The All Blacks quick game off number nine in the early stages took a few Lions casualties and nullified their rush defence.

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When Ireland beat the All Blacks they were able to play the game at their pace. Hansen observed after Saturday's match that people make mistakes when they are tired. The Lions do not have the same sort of anaerobic, lung-busting fitness as the All blacks and it was exposed.

The Lions also need some luck. It's a part of sport. Two bounces went the All Blacks way when the Lions were still in the match late in the half. George Kruis's charge down near the line went into touch when it could have gone the Lions way. And seconds later when Liam Williams dropped TJ Perenara's kick, the ball bounced into Rieko Ioane's hands when it could have gone the way of any one of three covering Lions.

Alun Wyn Jones (L), struggles to help Jamie George tackle All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick.
Phil Walter

Alun Wyn Jones (L), struggles to help Jamie George tackle All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick.

But the Lions need to concentrate on the stuff they can fix. Should Maro Itoje start ahead of Wyn Jones who was not impressive. They also need more flexibility because they were slow to adapt to the All Blacks negating their rush defence. And the big question, who starts at 10 for the second test.

Owen Farrell talked beforehand about playing the match and not the occasion, but he did not have his finest night. He looked a touch rusty. Too many passes went behind the man. He didn't impose his will and character as he so often does. Should Johnny Sexton now come in?

But above all the Lions have to slow the game down. Two of the All Blacks three tries came from tempo. The Lions were only outscored by three tries to two and they created a ton of other chances. I have always thought that the second test represents their best chance of victory, due to the venue and the nationality of the referee.

Dejected Lions players after the final whistle.
DAVID GRAY

Dejected Lions players after the final whistle.

For the sake of the game, there are many heretics in New Zealand who are fervently hoping that the Lions can turn the series and the All Blacks around.

Chat live with Mark Reason about the Lions tour from midday on Tuesdays and Fridays.

 - Stuff

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