Lions hampered by limited Six Nations

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    29 Jun 2017     Getty Images

Guardian writer Paul Rees said the play of the Lions reflected the Six Nations, 'full-blooded but limited'.

"The Lions have not lacked ambition this tour and they would be too strong for South Africa and Australia, but they are not equipped to play with the same verve and pizzazz of their opponents," he said.

England coach Eddie Jones knew that if his side were to win the Rugby World Cup in 2019 it would have to involve finding a way to beat the All Blacks by means beyond kicking penalty goals. They had struggled to beat Ireland in the Six Nations.

Wales and Ireland had been disappointing with Wales 'uninspiring and devising various ways of squandering overlaps' while Ireland, in spite of their win in Chicago, were 'too risk averse'.

"It may be this weekend that the Lions prevail through fire and passion and bludgeon New Zealand into committing errors and conceding penalties, but why aim low?" Rees asked.

"They have the forwards to generate prime set-piece possession and control the breakdown and outside backs with pace. Passing is an issue, but less so if Jonathan Sexton and Owen Farrell are together in the midfield," he said.

What the Lions needed was a 'two-tone approach' of zap in the forwards and zip in the backs to maximise their scoring potential rather than merely trying to drag down the All Blacks.

It only took 10 minutes for the All Blacks to be on top for them to win a match, he said.

"It does not mean trying to replicate New Zealand, something that would involve overhauling the coaching of young players in the four home unions and putting skills before the gym, but making the most of what the Lions have.

"There is no one way to play the game: the best are able to do it every which way," he said.

The fact was the Lions were up against a side who had dominated the decade by losing rarely and often shredding defences, they were up against a tough schedule while trying to mould four countries into one and all on what he called a relatively low skill level which has been exposed under pressure.

The Six Nations, while producing hard-fought games that were full of endeavour and muscularity were low on risk and that had been evident in New Zealand.

"Suddenly players have to adapt in a country where even the weakest opponents on the tour, the Provincial Barbarians, had a firm grasp of the game's rudiments and no little skills. Europe would be seen as a slugger and New Zealand Muhammad Ali," he said.

"The first Test showed that the resort to width and risk has not come at the expense of the game's basics: the All Blacks remain winners and will do whatever it takes but now when they are under pressure, they do not have to simulate ballet moves at a lineout but trust their ability and rely on the understanding of the players that turns the outrageous into the expected," he said.