Belfast Telegraph

Replacements U-turn piles pressure on under-fire chief

 

Comment: Jack de Menezes

What started with a bang ended with a whimper. Somehow, the British and Irish Lions managed not to win their final midweek game against a Hurricanes side that were so poor in the first half you wondered if they wanted to play the game at all.

The Lions led 31-17 at one stage, yet conspired to concede 14 points while Iain Henderson was in the sin-bin, and the Lions were lucky to escape without a defeat in the record books, though a loss is exactly what this 31-31 draw felt like.

By the end of a frustrating, yet entertaining, 80 minutes, it was the Wellington side that looked hungrier for victory, and in truth there was there was only one winner and that was Courtney Lawes, who looks to have forced his way into the Test fold after two impressive performances and Warren Gatland's decision to take him off short of the hour mark.

However, there was one other decision that really stood out in this encounter, and it was Gatland's choice to not send on any of the replacements that he called up halfway through the tour.

Finn Russell made a fleeting cameo appearance when Dan Biggar was required to undergo a head injury assessment, but the Welshman's return signalled the end of Russell's contribution.

The 'Geography Six', as they have been not-so-affectionately dubbed, will have been sitting on the bench wondering what the point was of wasting all this time.

Only Allan Dell and Russell have seen any game time on the tour, and that combined can almost be counted on two hands, while Kristian Dacey, Tomas Francis, Cory Hill and Gareth Davies all gave up a potential international cap for Wales in their game against Samoa last week to help out the Lions.

Gatland's snub, he explained, came from the backlash that he faced for "devaluing the shirt" as it was widely put, and it was a remarkable admission that raised questions about the head coach's performance on this tour.

But the sight of Dan Cole and CJ Stander among many others completely out on their feet at full-time after a colossal 80-minute shift for the second time in a week made you question why Gatland had performed a U-turn to keep everyone happy. He made this decision to bring in reinforcements to protect players from exhaustion, yet that is what he now has on his hands.

Added to the fact that he was outsmarted by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in the first Test, with New Zealand deploying a simple yet devastatingly effective tactics of playing one-out rugby to nullify the Lions' rush defence, and Gatland appears to be taking a bit of a hammering on his return to his homeland.

It is the complete opposite of what the Lions need if they are to record history over the next two weeks and find a way to win a series in New Zealand for the first time after losing the first Test match.

Belfast Telegraph

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