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Defeat was bad but the reaction will be key

If ever there was a way to play the final midweek game before the Tests begin, the Lions performance against the Brumbies was not it.

For those that missed it, the Lions lost to the Brumbies 14-12, losing their unbeaten record and becoming the first Lions squad to lose to a provincial side since 1997.

As has been intimated elsewhere, there is a list of excuses as long as the collective air miles that it took to get a full team there, however the apparent (and to an extent, admitted) lack of desire on show from the Lions was appalling.

Now I was not at the press conference and I have only heard musings on twitter, but it appears that Rory Best said he believed the Brumbies wanted it more than the Lions and Rob Kearney hinted at much the same in an interview after the game. I do not particularly want to go into it, as I cannot be sure, however if that is the case, it is unacceptable.

What I can be sure of is that the lack of urgency and efficiency at the breakdown cost the Lions dear, while the lineout was a shambles – with Rory Best particularly culpable.

What it served to do was to give the Lions little or no quality possession, particularly in the first half, giving the makeshift backline almost no opportunity to shine at all.

I feel desperately sorry for Stuart Hogg, who has already come in for a fair amount of stick, he had scarcely any ball to work with and what little he did get was of such poor quality that it had to be kicked away.

It was difficult enough for a fly half of any standard but for a guy who is just twenty years old and is playing in only his second match ever at fly half, against the best team in Super Rugby, whilst trying to lead and organise a backline that had been thrown together from all corners of the globe, it was near enough impossible.

The management owe him a huge debt of gratitude and a big apology, experimenting with him against Combined Country was one thing, but against the leading Super Rugby side and in those circumstances it was simply unfair.

The rest of the backline lacked penetration or any real cutting edge but they could never have been expected to be a cohesive unit after just one training session and a pick ‘n mix jet lag pattern. The fact is that they were feeding off scraps and the forwards must take a lot of responsibility.

It is important to remember though that this is just a warm up game and if the Lions win the series then this loss will be irrelevant. Good teams sometimes play badly and sometimes lose games, that is sport.

What is important is how the squad reacts, this defeat is a big blow psychologically but it is important that squad sticks together. They have been speaking proudly of their team spirit but this is where that team spirit really must count.

There will be guys who will, or already know they are going to, miss out on Test selection – they must feel a part of the process though. Equally the squad as a whole must take responsibility for defeat today and responsibility for responding to it in the best possible manner.

Defeat on a Lions tour can be a positive thing if the squad reacts to it properly, just look at the 1997 Lions, their defeat to Northern Transvaal proved to be the making of the tour, such was their determination to avoid another defeat and the understanding that it gave them of where they had to improve.

This could be the same for this crop of Lions. Sometimes it takes the tremendous overreaction from the public and press that you get to a defeat on a Lions tour, and the tremendous despair you feel as a player, for a player to realise just how special and unique the Lions are. The will be nobody in that team room tonight who is not aware now of just how much bigger the Lions are than anything they have ever experienced before.

So Warren Gatland and his coaching team along with Sam Warburton and his lieutenants Paul O’Connell and Brian O’Driscoll have their most important task of the tour coming up – they must drive the response to this defeat and make sure that it is a positive one, and they must ensure that with Test selection 99% decided that the squad stays as one. If they succeed then this defeat could yet be the making of this tour, if they faill it will be the definitive breaking point of it.

As Warren Gatland said in his pre match interview “Every tour has a defining game, this could be it for us”.

He was right, it was, we just do not know what it has defined yet.

By Angus Savage

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