Christian Cullen: Lions are close to clicking

Christian Cullen 1582043180
It came when impressive British & Irish Lions centre Jonathan Davies planted a fend that left Codie Taylor punching the turf in his wake. 

The Lions were deep in behind the All Blacks when Davies was hauled down. The defence had not had a chance to regroup, but the Lions were too cute and went blind when they needed to go wide immediately. By the time they did, Ben Te'o then attempted to go himself instead of drawing the overlap. If you are going to beat the All Blacks, you cannot bomb those gilt-edged opportunities as you don't get many.

Those moments are coach killers. In the earlier tour matches, it was basic finishing skills that let the Lions down. This time it was their decision-making. And that's what will hurt when they sit down for a brutal video analysis session. Great players making poor decisions. But that analysis should also show that they're not far off from putting in a performance that could level the series.

Gatland will have learned a lot from the first 40 minutes of that test alone. He will not be panicking. His game plan was effective. The Lions were able to suck the All Blacks into the middle of the park and then attack the fringes with great success. 

Their attacking instincts got them into space, but they just could not execute those final plays and a lot of that comes down to familiarity. For example, it was the first time their back three had all started a game together this tour. They have got better and better on attack with each game. It's only a matter of time before they consistently click.

On defence they will want to make some adjustments. The pace of the game hurt Gatland's forwards and they made tired mistakes as a result. They lost the contact, where Sam Cane's performance has gone relatively unnoticed. He was huge. The All Blacks bench also proved a big point and the Lions need to find a way to match that.

If the Lions can slow the All Blacks ruck speed in Wellington, even by a fraction, they will be able to generate some line speed. Easier said than done when Jerome Kaino, Kieran Read and SBW are charging at pace, but expect them to test the line of French whistler Jerome Garces early when it comes to holding on in the ruck.

The starting team Gatland names later this week will have changes. It would be a shock not to see Maro Itoje get the nod in the second row and I wouldn't be surprised if Alun Wyn Jones is omitted entirely given he was sideways after only 20 minutes. 

The bigger question in my mind is whether they tinker with the 10, 12 combination. If Jonny Sexton wears 10, Farrell would no doubt move out a place. It would be a harsh call on Te'o, who in my mind poses a bigger threat than Farrell and has a tight midfield combination with Davies. But Farrell appears to be a lock to start given his big game reputation.

Sexton likes to stand flat and attack the line. He has shown some nice touches on this tour and would ask different questions of the All Blacks. A fresh Te'o coming off the bench gives the Lions added power in the closing moments. Gatland could easily consider adding CJ Stander to his list of finishers for that same reason.

Tactically speaking, Hansen will not be wanting to change a lot outside of tidying up their defensive structure. The All Blacks will be watching to see if the Lions stack more bodies in the short channels and if they do, then they will look to shift wider earlier. Otherwise, it will be more of the same brute force.

Hansen will have some forced selection decisions to make though. 

The apparent loss of Ben Smith raises the question of whether Naholo gets a start with Dagg moving back to his old role, or Cruden holds the 10 jumper with Barrett at the back. But it's a particularly big week for young Jack Goodhue. Brought into the squad as injury cover, will we see him named on the bench for a potential debut? Stepping into the Wellington cauldron would be one hell of a way to kick-off your career in the black jersey.
Christian Cullen 1582043180




Christian Cullen

Known as the "Paekakariki Express" Cullen was considered to be one of the most potent running fullbacks rugby has ever seen. With 46 tries scored in 58 Tests, Cullen is the 9th-highest try-scorer in international rugby.


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