x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

British & Irish Lions: Pride has taken a little dent

With the first Test against Australia coming Saturday, a loss to ACT Brumbies is as good a wake-up call as the British & Irish Lions could have asked for.

Christian Wade, left, and his British & Irish Lions teammates had trouble handling Tevita Kuridrani, right, and the rest of the ACT Brumbies.
Christian Wade, left, and his British & Irish Lions teammates had trouble handling Tevita Kuridrani, right, and the rest of the ACT Brumbies.

To all intents and purposes, a midweek fixture against ACT Brumbies in Canberra should have little relevance at all to the Test prospects of the British & Irish Lions.

The first choice side have been rolling along nicely and as such their leading players were probably wrapped up in Lions branded cotton wool and told to watch Tuesday's game from an oxygen chamber.

Few of the players involved in the 14-12 defeat will have realistically been able to force their way into the Test side for Saturday's match against Australia, anyway. Selection for this game was an admission of as much. The dirt-trackers must get used to hearing the sentiment: you won't be playing in the big show at the weekend, sorry and all that, but do your best not to let the side down, please.

The fact the side representing the Lions did not manage to keep up those standards in a pallid defeat to the leading Australian side in Super Rugby, however, could yet have a significant effect on the tourists.

Yes, they had been forced to parachute in players from far flung reaches of the rugby globe especially for it.

Yes, they have had little time to introduce themselves to each other, let alone have a look at the playbook.

And yes, one of their wingers has been retired from international rugby for two years, was boxing in a charity event in Dubai last month, and was invited to play on the off chance he could get out of his radio shift.

But this team had the stated intention - and realistic ambition - of going the whole tour undefeated. Maybe it was lower stakes than a Test match, but this defeat will hurt. Piffling excuses will not be able to mask that.

Everything had been going so serenely until this point.

Though they would never had said it, and probably even fought against thinking it, the Lions might have been starting to feel pretty invincible by way of their performances until now.

Then the wheels came off. And all at once.

The Lions were a try behind in just the sixth minute after their defensive line melted quicker than a snowman on Umm Suqiem Beach in August.

It was worrying how quickly their confidence dissipated thereafter.

Stuart Hogg proceeded to kick the restart straight out.

Then Rory Best, who will forever have nightmares of the day he was handed the Lions' captaincy, threw his first wonky line out, on a day when having a line out was less an advantage, rather a basis for negotiation.

The waning confidence bled into other facets of their game, too. Take discipline, for example, which had been so immaculate ever since Owen Farrell retaliated to Schalk Brits's left-hook in Hong Kong last month. Even that lapsed from the high standards previously set, most notably when Ryan Grant tried to do a WWE style full-Nelson on a Brumbies pest at a maul.

Once he had ripped him out of the way, he placed his hand in the face of the prone player, then returned to the maul and swung an arm at an opponent to announce he was back. It was either feisty or foolhardy.

While the Lions will rightly be more concerned with broken bones than wounded pride ahead of Saturday's first Test, there is no doubt this defeat will leave scars.

How they respond will be the marker of their greatness or otherwise.

 

 

UPS AND DOWNS

ON THE WAY UP: Dan Cole, Lions


The likely back up to Adam Jones at tighthead in the Test side had a monumental effect when he arrived on the hour. The new front-row troika of Cole, Alex Corbisiero and Richie Hibbard smashed the tiring ACT Brumbies in the later part – but ultimately to no avail on the scoreboard.

 

DOWN: Rory Best, Lions

Handed the Lions captaincy but the Irish hooker had an absolute shocker. Three throws not straight at the line-out and three thrown directly to the opposition, including one when camped on the Brumbies line at the start of the second half.

 

DOWN: Christian Wade, Lions

Hailed as the coming man, but the future arrived a little too early for the London Wasps wing. On debut for the Lions just 10 days after making his England bow, he was brushed off for the early try and failed to influence the game.

 

DOWN: Rob Kearney, Lions

Sad to see the effect injury has had on a Lion who was a titan in South Africa four years ago. The Irish fullback had no zip in his play against the Brumbies, missed two tackles, kicked ineffectively and was generally a pale shadow of himself.


pradley@thenational.ae

 

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