Lions must stop another lightning strike to save series

The All Blacks had it, the Lions need to stop them getting it and fight for some of their own.
Lions must stop another lightning strike to save series

Lightning Quick Ball, the production of clean ball from a ruck in three seconds or less, is the holy grail for the world champions. Their target set by head coach Steve Hansen is to achieve LQB at a rate of around 45 to 50% of rucks in the belief that will be enough to do the offensive damage required to win games.

Against the British & Irish Lions in last Saturday’s first Test at Eden Park, the LQB was up around a phenomenal 67% and clearly Warren Gatland and his defence coach Andy Farrell have to figure out a way to reduce that figure considerably before this Saturday’s second Test at Wellington’s Westpac Stadium or the 2017 series will be beyond the tourists with a game to spare for New Zealand.

How did the All Blacks get that LQB in the first place? As Gatland admitted on Sunday, their physicality in the collision with tacklers was such that they were able to carry the ball beyond and behind the defensive line, second row Brodie Retallick, in particular, having a monster of a game in that regard.

The Lions needed someone to stop Retallick and company but their own locks Alun Wyn Jones and George Kruis were not at the races in Auckland, unable to get good shoulders on their opponents and force the line to retreat behind the collision in order to join the ruck, too late to stop rapidfire recycled ball.

That failure last Saturday prompted head coach Gatland to demand his forwards show some pride and ramp up their physicality this weekend, while there may well be changes when the Lions Test team is announced overnight on Wednesday Irish time.

“The first thing for the Lions will be their defence because defence was the weapon that was missing last night,” said John Plumtree, Ireland’s former forwards coach, now performing the same role with Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes, whom the tourists played this morning.

“That was the strange thing about the linespeed, it wasn’t the same. I expected a bit more physicality from them. I think they would have from themselves.

“They got beaten at the breakdown and the ball carrying, (Jerome) Kaino and Retallick dominated the gainline. Sam Cane. They all did bits and pieces for the All Blacks squad but in terms of killing the ball, because that was obviously their plan… it will be interesting to see if they make some changes. They might go, ‘Get this one right, don’t analyse’.

Lions second rows Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson were given the chance to prove their worth against Plumtree’s Hurricanes in Wellington this morning in the final midweek match of the tour and English lock Lawes, not selected in the first Test matchday squad, believes the All Blacks have to be stopped at source next time around.

“I thought it was a clever strategy to use,” Lawes said. “Just running off nine means we can’t get any linespeed.

“If you don’t win those first couple of contacts you’re always going to be struggling, especially with them only putting in one or two max into the ruck and getting quick ball off it. We need to really target first and second phase to stop that momentum. It’s very hard for them to generate (quick) ball after that.

“Of course we don’t want them getting anywhere near the gainline, so that is something for us to sort out – probably technically as much as physically, and also in terms of attitude, as Gats said. That is something we will have a look at in a lot of detail this week.”

The ominous thing for the Lions is that however much they can fix, the All Blacks are likely to come back even stronger in Wellington.

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