Concerns grow as Lions lose their bite

Combined 0 British & Irish Lions 64

Rarely can a coach have looked so annoyed by a 10-try to nil whitewash as Gatland appeared in his post-match press conference.

Having looked on course for a venture into the record books at half-time as they led 38-0 over this plucky yet limited team of Super Rugby fringe players, electrical engineers, removal men and students from the Bush country of New South Wales and Queensland, the Lions went into reverse after the interval.

They grabbed three more tries in the first quarter of the second period, granted, but their opponents were beginning to gain some composure that had been sorely lacking before the break, even their head coach Cam Blades admitting his side had been like rabbits caught in the headlights.

And then there was the mistakes the Lions themselves began making. The dropped balls, knock-ons and sloppy play reached a tragicomic point when substitute Leigh Halfpenny, the hero of the victory over Western Force just six days before, tracked a high ball in his backfield and instead of catching it, left it bounce off his shoulder.

You almost wanted referee Steve Walsh to blow for full-time there and then in the 70th minute, not to save Combined Country’s blushes but the Lions’. As it turned out, the tourists finished with another try, this time from Jon Davies, Leigh Halfpenny’s conversion ending the game with the seventh successful two-pointer of the night.

And yet Gatland bristled at the suggestion the exercise had been a pointless one, insisting: “That was a lot of use. The team only had one training session together. There was some excellent stuff and some average stuff as well.”

Some “turnovers and stuff” had been a concern but “there was some excellent offloading and handling and tries as well”.

Had the second half been a big disappointment? “No, not at all,” Gatland replied. His matchday captain, Brian O’Driscoll, was a shade more analytical, admitting the Lions had tried to force things after half-time in pursuit of a big score but offered up a greasy ball as mitigation of sorts for the handling errors.

“I think we probably got a little bit flat, depth-wise, and the accuracy of some of the passing as a result, balls were thrown behind when a little bit of depth might have made things an awful lot easier but that’s one easy fix,” O’Driscoll said.

“I don’t know what the half-time score was but we tried to kick on in the second half but it just didn’t really happen for us at times.”

All of which leaves the Lions with just one serious workout, against the Queensland Reds last Saturday, under their belts from the first four games and just two games before Gatland picks his side to face the Wallabies in the first Test on June 22.

The Waratahs, in Sydney on Saturday, should give Gatland a more appropriate challenge and the head coach insisted he knew the type of opposition his players would face early in the tour and was happy with where his squad were after four games.

“We’ve great harmony within the squad. The boys who didn’t play today were training hard. We’re undefeated and if we can win the next two games and arrive in Brisbane undefeated, it would be a good positive frame to arrive in.”

COMBINED COUNTRY: N Trist; A Gibbon, L Catt (D Ahwang, 62), T-J Siakisini, T Cox (S McCarthy, 56); A Roberts, M Snowden (A McCormack, 74); H Hirsmaki (D Evans, 53), J Mann-Rae (T Kearney, 62), T Metcher (R Abraham, 71); P Battye (T Dyer, 53; R Arnold, 74), B Enever; R Stanford (Battye 65), J Butler, T Davidson – captain.

BRITISH & IRISH LIONS: S Maitland; A Cuthbert, B O’Driscoll – captain, J Roberts (J Davies, 56), G North (L Halfpenny, h-t); S Hogg, C Murray (M Phillips, 70); A Corbisiero (R Grant, 50), R Hibbard (R Best, 50), D Cole (M Stevens, 50); R Gray (A W Jones, h-t), I Evans; S O’Brien, J Tipuric, J Heaslip (T Faletau, 53).

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia).

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