Arguably the biggest call from today’s Lions 2nd Test selection was the exclusion of Ben Te’o in favour of a Jonathan Sexton, Owen Farrell combination at 10 and 12.
Te’o put in a solid display against the All Blacks in Eden Park, most notably managing to restrict fellow code hopper Sonny Bill Williams’ impact on the game.
While Gatland was at pains to explain his decision, the rugby league convert’s exclusion may have come down to one single error, which saw the Lions butcher an overlap early in the second half, when just five points separated the sides.
Watch below as the Auckland born centre blows an overlap by choosing to cut back towards traffic instead of shipping the ball wide to O’Brien and Faletau, ultimately slipping and allowing the All Blacks to reset.
Whether he was trying to have a cut himself, possibly not trusting his pass or trying to straighten the line to give the two on the outside more space once the pass was made; the end result is the same: a butchered opportunity for the Lions with the line at their mercy.
One can’t help but feel if this opportunity were presented at the other end of the field it would have resulted in an easy try for the All Blacks. The difference between the two teams clinically was starkly evident last weekend.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) June 29, 2017
Perhaps Gatland feels that this change will provide the killer edge that the Lions have been missing.
“Johnny and Owen haven’t started but have had quite a bit of time together,” said Gatland. “It’s just given us two ball players and two kicking options at first and second receiver, so we’re happy with the mix.”
“Defensively we’ll have to do a job on Sonny Bill Williams,” referencing the obvious threat that the 12 posses to the smaller pairing.
Another potential concern for Gatland will have with a ball playing 10/12 combination in his backline is the weather. With heavy rain forecast conditions may not be favourable for moving the ball through the hands on Saturday night in Wellington.
It’s a gamble for Gatland, sacrificing defence in order to enable the attack. We’ll have to wait until Saturday to see if this particular gamble pays off.
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