Nick McCashin

Nick McCashin is a former Bay of Plenty representative who has played professionally in England, France and Spain. Nick is currently playing and coaching in Scotland where he is writing and developing content for to help players excel on and off the field.

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What have we learned from the Lions?

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Nick McCashin     13 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Across social media and on talkback radio, New Zealand fans talked about the ‘negative’ and ‘boring’ tactics of the Lions. A regular comment was that “they better start playing running rugby like the All Blacks or they will never beat them.”
But all that matters at the end of the day for the Lions is winning against the All Blacks.

So what have we learnt about the DHL NZ Lions Series so far?

The Lions recent win against the Crusaders has given the players and the touring party a lot of confidence. Everyone will agree that the game did not follow the same pattern of running rugby we are used to seeing in New Zealand. We have to remember the New Zealand teams are playing the best players from four different countries who play a completely different style of game.

We really want to see a great game and loads of tries being scored but it doesn’t matter how the games are played from a spectators point of view. The British & Irish Lions surely don’t have to play the way the fans think they should. Why would they play a very open game and play right into the hands of every New Zealand team? Why would they play like the All Blacks when the All Blacks are the best at the world at that specific game plan. If they play their own game plan then surely they have a better chance of success?

We have learnt that Warren Gatland and the management team are focused on winning the Tests. Should the Lions lose every warm up game prior to the All Blacks but then go on to beat the All Blacks, the warm up games will be largely forgotten. When we look back in history, all anyone will remember is that the Lions won a Test series in New Zealand.
If the Lions play a similar game plan to what we saw against the Crusaders, they will be in with a chance. Should the New Zealand weather close in and provide a wet, heavy track it will likely favour the visitors. The Lions are just as big as the All Blacks and know how to play a more forward orientated power game. If this should happen we also need to factor in goal kicking and defence.

A low-scoring game maybe seen by many as negative. But if two teams are evenly matched in all areas of the game and the conditions are poor, the result may be determined by goal kicking. The British & Irish Lions have arrived with three of the best goal kickers in Europe in Owen Farrell, Jonny Sexton and Leigh Halfpenny. Stuart Hogg has also been known to knock kicks over from 55-60 meters out. Taking the points when they are on offer will be very important.

Opting for a lineout rather than the easy three points is simply dumb rugby when you are playing a world class opponent. Big Test matchs are often only decided by a few points. It doesn’t matter how they are won - just that they are.

Many of the Lions have come from the top teams in the UK. For example the Saracens. They play a ruthless game of territory, play little rugby in their own half and play a pressure game backed up by goal kicking. A similar game plan to what we saw on Saturday night. Connor Murray played more field position and territory than playing from anywhere. Murray, Sexton, and Farrell controlled the tempo of the game and squeezed the Crusaders into mistakes.

We have all played games where the other team applies pressure. They take our best players out of the game. Or devastating runners are not given the ball and we are forced into set piece plays. We can see this might be the style of play the Lions want to play? A key component of this type of game is defense. The influence of Andy Farrell's rush defense caused havoc for the Crusaders. Super teams are used to playing against an up and out defensive pattern and it showed in the simple errors that were forced due to pressure.

We would all love to see a bit more cohesion from the Lions. We would love to see less errors from the tourists as we know the All Blacks will be ruthless in exploiting them. Running rugby and tries are what we want to see. However if the Lions team tries to play like the All Blacks, the simple fact is that they will not be as good as them at it.

The Lions should and will play their own game plan. Their mission is to beat the All Blacks no matter what that looks like.