This time last week, many writers, myself included, saw the Lions heading for a 2005-esque hammering. While their performance was flawed, Saturday will still go down as one of the great Lions Test wins.
And while a repeat of that display will see the Lions beaten by a comfortable margin, the fight they showed to recover from 18-9 down in that heroic last 20 minutes was very impressive.
Several players that have seemed absent stood up. Several dormant superstars showed they were world-class. They scored two fantastically well-worked tries, which were finished wonderfully. But without doubt the most impressive period was minutes 73-78, where the Lions pushed the All Blacks back before regaining the ball and earning the match-winning penalty.
Nevertheless, they were a man up for 60 minutes. That, along with the dire display in the third quarter and the fact that the All Blacks will come back stronger, means that if anyone is reflecting on it thinking it’s good enough to win they are sadly mistaken.
There is a consensus that Sonny Bill Williams deserved to go. I like to think he just mistimed it, but with the rules as they are in the modern day, Jerome Garces was left with no choice. Nevertheless, the initial effects on New Zealand’s performance were limited.
They closed out the half without coming under a great deal of pressure. The following 20 minutes after half time saw them dominate. Had they had a man extra they would have gone for more tries and probably should have done in hindsight.
Beauden Barrett’s wayward kicking was very helpful. Had he kicked all of his ten attempts the Lions would have been dead in the water heading into the last 20 minutes.
The discipline was shockingly bad. It’s understandable, with everyone keen to make an impact. But hopefully that, therefore, means that problem will be dealt with for next week as it will be the final outing for all. This means that people will be less reckless at the breakdown, better at staying onside and just generally calmer.
But that won’t fix everything. Warren Gatland and the coaching team’s attitude is vital. Fortunately, on this front they are clued up. Both Gatland and Sam Warburton mentioned the frustrating number of penalties given away.
So they know it’s not acceptable, but does that mean they can fix it? It’s been a consistently difficult area for the Lions and they have less than one week to do it.
It also may have an effect on the defensive system in that they may end up reducing their line speed or be less aggressive at the breakdown allowing New Zealand more space and quicker ball respectively.
Indeed, that poor discipline was the abiding memory of the period from 40-60 minutes. But that wasn’t the only problem. New Zealand were allowed to be so comfortable in possession. Obviously they are the best in the world at that but it was slightly disappointing, especially given their disadvantage.
I seem to contradict myself suggesting the Lions should compete more carefully at the ruck but put more pressure on the ball, but if New Zealand can do it, the Lions have to be able to too.
In responding to the good things, they should also be active. They need to re-apply all the good that came from the game. For example, there were periods where the Johnny Sexton-Owen Farrell partnership was electric, but others when it didn’t really trouble the All Black defence.
Constant perfection may be a lot to ask but in several situations these two could have put together a better move or chosen a better option. It is essential that they create everything they can on Saturday because you do wonder if two tries will be enough.
The Lions were right to pat themselves on the back and have a couple of days off in Queenstown for the incredible fighting spirit they showed. But to think that against a full 15 All Blacks, hurting from the defeat and having already beaten the Lions in Auckland that the first Test performance is acceptable is just not true I’m afraid.
I can’t help but chuckle when people say that the Lions would have beaten the All Blacks even if they had 15 men on the pitch. In fact, with only 39 per cent possession and 42 per cent territory I would actually challenge the widely accepted idea that they even deserved to win.
But they can do it, it all comes down to whether they look at last week as a fortunate win, where they need to make serious but possible corrections, or whether they bask in the victory.
Nick Powell, Pundit Arena