All Blacks Fans Most Arrogant In The World: Ben Kay

The chances of the British & Irish Lions defeating New Zealand in the Test series have not receded on account of their opening performance in Whangarei on Saturday. It was scruffy, disjointed and error-strewn but with the players still in the clutches of jet lag, thanks to the punishing schedule set for them, I expected little more.
The reaction in New Zealand was also predictable. “Is this the worst Lions team ever?” heckled one fan at half-time as the Provincial Barbarians walked off with a 7-3 lead. Different quarters of the Kiwi media branded them “mediocre”, “incompetent” and a “disgrace to the jersey”.

New Zealand sports fans are among the most arrogant in the world. Where Saturday’s performance has made life tougher for the Lions is in convincing those Kiwis - and their future opponents, all of whom will be tougher and slicker and more skilful than the Barbarians - that they are still a team to be feared.
New Zealand rugby fans have earned the right to be arrogant because they have been raised on a diet of virtually unbroken success. The All Blacks are more than just a nation’s rugby team, they are a national symbol and so even non-rugby supporters feed off that superiority.

As a Lion in New Zealand, it is therefore impossible to escape the pressure and scrutiny. At every turn they will have the locals doubting them; the man at reception smirking as he checks them in to a hotel, the barista with a little dig as she makes a coffee. Winning their respect as a visiting team is virtually impossible.
The only way to combat that pressure is with a performance. It is not about engaging in a slanging match with the waiter or chambermaid but about each player deriving a quiet confidence from knowing that they have begun to prove a point to the naysayers.

One game in and the Lions do not yet have that comeback. Yes, they won but the performance left the Kiwis licking their lips at what might befall the touring side against the Blues on Wednesday, or the Crusaders on Saturday.
Ian Kirkpatrick once said: “You can never beat Wales, you can only score more points than them.” I would suggest that applies tenfold to the Kiwis.
In 2003, England defeated the All Blacks in Wellington and the response was to criticise the way that we played, to claim that England were ruining rugby and that we had the ugliest pack of all time.
Only the last of those might have been true - but the point was that even in victory you received little credit from New Zealand rugby people. The Lions need to own the agenda.
If they turn up against the Blues and put in a strong performance, everyone will forget what happened. If they don’t, then it ratchets up another level. A struggle against the Crusaders and you may well find even more Kiwis dismissing a Lions squad that we felt was the strongest ever as worse than 2005.

HALF ASLEEP

Alun Wyn Jones, understandably, has refused to use jet lag as an excuse for the performance on Saturday. Very noble of him - but I am certain that the Lions’ skill levels, sharpness and decision-making were all dulled by travel fatigue.
The odd mistake is inevitable in a game but the list of individual errors was unusually high: Iain Henderson misjudging kick-offs, Jonathan Sexton overhitting a cross-kick, Stuart Hogg blowing a try, Rory Best’s crooked throw at the lineout. The Lions’ driving game did not function, they conceded far too many penalties and struggled to retain possession. It is impossible to say how many of those problems were down to jet lag but I would wager a significant number, if not all. Tiredness affects the central nervous system and you only have to be a few per cent off to deliver a performance like that. Research shows that jet lag hits hardest three days after arriving. This game was on day three.

A GOOD LESSON

The Provincial Barbarians were the ideal opponents for the Lions’ first game. They were accomplished rugby players (but no more) and they gave the Lions an early sighter of the attacking systems to come.
Although they were a scratch side, most teams in New Zealand attack in the same way and so that unfamiliarity did not affect their fluidity with the ball as much as it did at the scrum. New Zealand teams offer multiple threats in attack; they can make standard outside breaks, go wide with a long pass or cross-kick if the defence gets narrow, or, conversely, give an inside ball and flood through the same channel.
The Lions have conceded the psychological advantage to the Blues and Crusaders because neither Super Rugby team has anything to fear before two pivotal matches. The Blues are suspect defensively but are capable of tearing anyone apart in attack. The Lions must control the game on Wednesday and play a bit like Saracens, perhaps not surrendering quite as much possession, but frustrate the Blues and be ready to shift through the gears when the chances present themselves. The Lions made nine line breaks but scored only two tries on Saturday; they have to be more accurate.

DON’T WRITE OFF SEXTON YET - BUT SINCKLER IS STILL A BENCH MAN

Sexton had a poor game. I would be prepared not to judge his Test credentials on this first performance but the pressure is really on him now; he needs a big performance on his next start.
Owen Farrell made an emphatic impact off the bench, bringing control, direction and tempo, but it can be easier to do that when you have been sitting on the sidelines working out what the problems are.
Ben Te’o is the player whose stock rose the most. We know that Gatland likes a direct runner at inside centre and Te’o carried strongly over the gainline and offloaded well. Taulupe Faletau and Ross Moriarty had good games, so too Kyle Sinckler although I still see him as an impact player in the Tests. Stuart Hogg is in the same boat as Sexton; for many he was a nailed on choice at full back but he needs to cut out the errors.

Ben Kay was a member of the British & Irish Lions in 2005

Courtesy:The Times



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