Forwards front up in Wellington

Warren Gatland and his coaches had looked their Lions forwards in the eyes and demanded they put things right after a tame, ineffective performance as a collective in the opening Test had handed New Zealand the series initiative.
Forwards front up in Wellington

On Saturday night in Wellington, the shift in attitude was patently obvious in the first minute of the second Test, as Alun Wyn Jones and Mako Vunipola drove back an All Black ball carrier with alarming ferocity.

It set the tone for a night at Westpac Stadium when a wounded Lions pack stood up and were counted, restoring pride to the red jerseys numbered 1-8 seven days after a chastening experience at Eden Park.

Wales lock Jones was one of those under fire the previous Saturday as the All Blacks second row of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock dominated collisions and consistently drove their team over the gainline.

His partner in the row, George Kruis, had been jettisoned by the time of the second Test as had Munster and Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony, but head coach Gatland had persisted with the Welsh captain and Jones was relieved to have been given the chance to redeem himself.

“I’m not sure about returning the faith,” Jones said. “Individual people make packs and when you do your individual role in that you get a complete pack.

“For the large part there was a lot of that, particularly in the first half. We were stressed going down to equal 14 men with the yellow card (in the second half, following Vunipola’s yellow card) and they were in the ascendancy in the first 15 or 20 minutes in the second half but we were able to weather the storm.As a pack we were trying to stick to what we do.

“We had to answer questions again and on the back of those comments last week, I felt we did that today.”

Scrum coach Graham Rowntree believes his pack will have to get better again if they are to get the Lions on the front foot once more in this Saturday’s series decider back at Auckland’s Eden Park.

He said that would be a primary focus once the players go back to work following a couple of days off to recover in Queens-town.

“A lot of lads were questioned last week, after the first Test, and we got a reaction,” said Rowntree. “We’re delighted. But understanding that we’ve got to be better. Our game is developing still. And we showed that last night. Showed glimpses. We can play. We’ve got a brilliant group of players. So that drives us on for next week.

“Continual improvement. We’ve got to be better for next week. The All Blacks will be better for next week. They’ll be hurting, as we were going into (the second Test). So we’ve got to push things this week. We’ve got a couple of days down time, because the lads need a rest. Then we get back to Auckland and back to work. It’s going to be a mammoth Test, that third Test.”

Discipline will also be prioritised in training this week following the self-destructive tendencies of the Lions to concede points via penalties during an ill-disciplined third quarter in Wellington.

“We can’t be giving penalties away the way we are at the moment. It’s going to be a big focus this week.

"Another is sustaining momentum. As I keep saying, we can play. A lot was questioned about the selection in midfield. I think we answered that. And we understand we’ve got to get better.

“They had a taste of the big time against the world champions — and they decided they weren’t going to be left behind in that physicality battle. And they stepped up. Next week will require another step. That will be a very physical battle, that third Test.”

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