Talking points from the Lions’ final warm-up game

Ed Angeli

The final warm-up game for the Lions was the perfect follow up to the Māori All Blacks game, and result needed heading into the first test.

The 34-6 victory over the Chiefs had all the foundations that the Lions built on in the Māori game; a rush defence that stifled any attacking game the New Zealand side could put together, and solid set pieces which the Lions will look towards in setting their sights on a first test victory in Auckland.

Some notable individual performances that really stood out, such as Justin Tipuric and James Haskell’s outstanding defensive work in both recording the highest tackling count of 14; adding to this, there was some much needed confidence for Exeter Chiefs winger, Jack Nowell, who bagged himself a brace, and looked lively throughout the game.

On a night that finally saw the Lions break their mid-week duck, Warren Gatland will continue to learn more about his Northern Hemisphere side.

Although this Chiefs side were missing key personnel, such as the influential Damian McKenzie at 10, the Lions managed to replicate some running rugby that New Zealand would have been proud of. Nowell’s second try was an outstanding counter from the touring side, modelling a similar game to the All Blacks by scoring from a turnover. Jared Payne’s try was also a brilliant score, with the touring side using the fullback and wing combination in the build-up play between Nowell and Liam Williams.

The forward dominance of the Lions was once again encouraging to see, with the scrum and driving maul working like clockwork. However, question marks again will be raised over the throwing of Rory Best in the line out. With Jamie George tipped to start the first test, Best failed to put his hand up as to why the experienced Irishman should be selected over the young English hooker.

What will perhaps anger some English fans will be the moment which is likely to add further confusion over Joe Launchbury’s second snub by Gatland. With Cory Hill being selected in the six-man call-up over the weekend, Gatland’s trust in the Welshman was shown when Hill was not picked when Courtney Lawes had to leave the field for a head assessment. The coaching staff’s decision to bring on Alun Wyn Jones over Hill, points to further embarrassment at Launchbury’s second shun. Hill will be playing no part in the first test, so why he was not chosen to enter the field further highlights Jeremy Guscott’s point of Gatland merely selecting Lions players to join the tour for the sake of it.

Nevertheless, this was an excellent performance from the touring team, and despite being against the weakest opposition since the Provincial Barbarians, it has laid the perfect foundations heading into Saturday’s first test.

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