Prowling Lions have ‘a bit in the cupboard’

Otago 19 Lions 30

Twenty-four hours after the tourists’ victory over Otago at Carisbrook on Saturday, the 2005 midweek coach was reacting to another avalanche of criticism in the New Zealand media regarding the Lions style of play, tactics and all-round inadequacies.

Otago coach Wayne Graham and his players were far from complimentary in the wake of their defeat at the ‘House Of Pain’ and All Black legend Grant Fox led the way.

“They cheated like buggery and good luck to them because they got away with it,” was Otago captain Craig Newby’s verdict of the Lions’ slowing down the ball at the breakdown while his coach Wayne Graham added: “They were allowed to come in from the side and get their big bodies in there behind the ball. It is probably a deliberate tactic that they use to keep the game at their pace.”

All of which left a relaxed McGeechan to comment yesterday: “If they’re now worried about how effective we are at the breakdown, then we must be doing something right.”

The previous night at Carisbrook, McGeechan took the sting out of Newby’s attack by saying: “I think that means we are now competitive at the breakdown, doesn’t it?

Both were perfect ripostes to Newby and the headlines his quote attracted in yesterday’s papers.

“Cheats” screamed the downmarket Sunday News while the Sunday Star Times went with “The Lions Still Sleep Tonight.”

Fox, also in the Star Times, rounded on the Lions, writing: “The attack on our match officials has continued unabated. I am staggered by how much whingeing I’m hearing. And it appears lost on the players that this is a waste of energy. Grizzling about it a waste of breath.”

No-one in the Lions camp was moaning after they had eventually overcome a strong Otago side, missing All Blacks Anton Oliver, Carl Hayman and James Ryan but still containing 13 Highlanders Super 12 squad members.

Impressive fly-half Nick Evans had given a 6-0 lead to the home team, only to be matched by Charlie Hodgson. When the Lions fly-half emulated Denis Hickie in missing a tackle on Evans at the other end in the 35th minute, they were made to pay. Evans, an All Blacks triallist two weeks ago, advanced down the left touchline before passing inside to half-back partner Danny Lee who crossed the line to send Otago in front with Evans converting for 13-6.

It took a clever cross-field kick on the stroke of half-time for the Lions to level, Hodgson switching direction to send the ball the entire width of the pitch where it bounced once and dropped into the hands of Will Greenwood to touch down. Hodgson converted and the Lions were all square at the break.

Evans nudged the South Islanders in front once more with a penalty but the Lions hit back with a 54th-minute try from debutant and man of the match Ryan Jones. A week after arriving as a replacement for Simon Taylor, the 24-year-old No.8 took a pass from Wales team-mate Shane Williams and carved a hole in the Otago defensive line to score under the posts and put the Lions in front for the first time in the game, Hodgson converting.

Evans made it a one-point game at 19-20 with 17 minutes left but the Lions pack was earning its corn at last at the breakdown. The tourists had sent on a heavyweight trio of replacements on the hour mark in Steve Thompson, Andy Sheridan and Danny Grewcock as well as scrum-half Matt Dawson and as the half wore on, the home players wore out.

A Hodgson penalty was followed by another surge of energy from Jones, who carried the ball through midfield into the final third of the field. The next phase saw quick ball pass through Greenwood and Geordan Murphy before Shane Williams nipped round the corner and touched down behind the posts to seal victory. Hodgson converted and that was that. A potentially tricky fixture had been successfully overcome no matter what the local media thought.

Otago coach Graham was even forced to admit the Lions had looked like they had something left in the tank as they headed into the week of the first Test.

“I think we have got a lot more to see of this Lions team yet. I think they might be building up. I wouldn’t take too much into what we have seen up to now. I think there might still be a bit in the cupboard.”

OTAGO: G Horton, H Pedersen, N Brew (J. Shoemark, 49), S Mapusua, M Saunders, N Evans, D Lee (C. Smylie, 73); C Hoeft, J Macdonald (J. Vercoe, 62), C Dunlea, F Levi, T Donnelly, C. Newby, capt, J. Blackie, G. Webb.

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS: G Murphy, D Hickie, W Greenwood, G D’Arcy (O Smith, 54), S Williams, C Hodgson (R O’Gara, 70), C Cusiter (M Dawson, 62); G Rowntree (A Sheridan, 62), G Bulloch, capt (S Thompson, 62) M Stevens, S Shaw (D Grewcock, 62), D O’Callaghan, S Easterby, M Williams, R Jones (M Owen, 73).

Referee: Lyndon Bray, New Zealand.

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