Tuesday, 20 June 2017

1983: New Zealand v Lions Second Test

This piece follows on from my previous blogs on the warm-up matches and first Test of the British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand in 1983:




There was an air of cautious optimism surrounding the Lions in the immediate aftermath of the closely fought first Test. "I sensed that the Lions left the field realising we can be beaten," New Zealand lock Andy Haden noted after the tourists had lost 16-12 at Christchurch, and indeed, there were positive noises emanating from the Lions camp in the build-up to the next international in Wellington.

In terms of results, the preparation for the second Test was pretty impressive. But there remained a nagging doubt in the press, that the Lions did not possess enough quality backs to threaten the All Blacks. The Lions may have outscored three Provincial sides to the combined tune of 150-29, yet it said a lot that there were still a few negative words written about the team, especially in relation to the back division.

The first victory saw the Lions cruise to a 52-16 win over West Coast, with scrum half Roy Laidlaw captaining the side, and winger John Carleton returning from concussion to score four of the seven tries. After the match, coach Jim Telfer and manager Willie John McBride were again critical about what they felt was dangerous play, with West Coast constantly collapsing scrums, although unsurprisingly perhaps, the New Zealanders laid the fault at the door of Lions props Iain Milne and Staff Jones.

As Terry Holmes had been ruled out of the tour after his injury suffered in the first Test, a replacement scrum half had been called up, but not the man everyone had expected. Nigel Melville, as yet uncapped at international level, joined the squad, with England's Steve Smith furious at his snub. "I'm sick. I have two letters saying I'm supposed to be the number one replacement. The authorities haven't a clue when it comes to dealing with people."

Melville hit the ground running, earning praise from Telfer for a "dream performance" against Southland, scoring two tries and playing a part in another three as the Lions strolled to a 41-3 win. After a crushing 57-10 win over Wairarapa-Bush that contained nine tries, Telfer appeared content, yet offered a hint of realism. "I think the Lions grew up a wee bit today and took the game by the scruff of the neck. We put things together better than in the past but we won't get carried away with that before the Test."

Selection decisions

There would be two changes in both the backs and forwards to the Lions XV that had ended the first Test, although it was telling that the latter was due to injuries rather than form. With Welsh duo Ian Stephens and Jeff Squire ruled out, Staff Jones and the recently fit again John O'Driscoll were brought into the pack, with centre Michael Kiernan, and winger Carleton replacing Trevor Ringland and Robert Ackerman respectively, a move that gained universal agreement with the journalists covering the tour.

There had been calls for skipper Ciaran Fitzgerald to be left out of the Test team entirely, with Colin Deans seen as the better option at hooker. Yet the Lions rallied around their popular captain. Maurice Colclough stated that the team were "all behind Ciaran", with Telfer stinging in his verdict. "The criticism is very unfair and totally unjust. He is doing a splendid job as captain and has the respect of all of us."

There were not many headaches for the New Zealand selectors. Wayne Smith's return at fly half was a welcome boost for the team, Ian Dunn replaced in the starting XV, and although the team had a relatively recent history of winning the first Test of a series and then losing the next - against the Lions in 1977, France (1979), South Africa (1981), and Australia (1982) - the All Blacks were clear favourites once more.

Not that you would have believed this on reading press reports on the eve of the match. "I believe the Lions will prove to be man eaters," wrote Tony Bodley in the Daily Express. The Times' Don Cameron offered optimism, but with a get-out clause that proved accurate. "Given fair weather, this is a match the Lions are good enough to win. However, should the weather turn sour, the All Blacks must be favoured."


New Zealand: Hewson, Wilson, Pokere, Taylor, Fraser, Smith, Loveridge; Ashworth, Dalton, Knight, Whetton, Haden, Shaw, Hobbs, Mexted

Lions: MacNeill (I), Carleton (E), Irwin (I), Kiernan (I), Baird (S), Campbell (I), Laidlaw (S); Jones (W), Fitzgerald (I), Price (W), Colclough (E), Norster (W), O'Driscoll (I), Winterbottom (E), Paxton (S)

The match

With a strong wind battering the Athletic Park stadium, the captain winning the toss had a decision to make; which half should his team play into the wind. After Fitzgerald lost the toss, Andy Dalton elected to play downwind in the first 40 minutes, a gamble that Bodley informed us required at least 15 points, according to the local experts. Using this as a benchmark, the Lions performed admirably in the first half. But come the end of the match, that was the tiniest silver lining on a huge black cloud.

For the majority of the match, it was the Dave Loveridge show, with the All Blacks scrum half dominating proceedings behind forwards that destroyed the Lions pack as the match progressed. Loveridge, who had admitted to liking blindside moves in the match programme, would score a try in this manner after 15 minutes, dummying his way through a gap in the Lions defence. Hewson added a conversion, but in a half where New Zealand made too many handling errors, a Hewson penalty after 32 minutes would be the last points scored.

"I doubted if nine points was enough," Dalton revealed, with Fitzgerald backing up this view. "I didn't think it was a very significant lead, but they upped their performance and were much sharper in every phase. They didn't let up." The second half would be a torrid experience for the Lions, with Laidlaw in particular suffering at the hands of Loveridge. The Lions had hoped that Campbell could kick for position and they could dominate with the wind behind their backs. The relentless defence of the All Blacks never gave them that opportunity.

"After the interval, the All Blacks forward tore the Lions' pack to pieces and most of the game was played in the Lions' half," Bodley wrote. Such was the brilliance of the All Blacks, that Campbell didn't even have a kick at goal, the discipline shown by Dalton's men admirable. The Lions may have been hindered slightly when the injured Iain Paxton was replaced by John Beattie, and a disc injury to Norster restricted his effectiveness in the lineout, but these disruptions could hardly be used as an excuse for the demoralising defeat.

Cameron described the New Zealand performance as "one of the finest combined All Black displays of recent times," and throughout the pointless second half, the Lions were slowly falling apart at the seams. Fitzgerald's throwing was again an issue, the strong wind hardly helping; the scrum, which had worked so well in the first Test, slowly disintegrated under constant pressure; New Zealand, aided by a fine performance from Jock Hobbs, were superior in the loose; Loveridge and Smith completely outplayed Laidlaw and Campbell. Playing behind that New Zealand pack obviously helped, though.


It was hard to see what the Lions could do from this point on to get back into the four match Test series. Cameron pointed out that the pack had suffered such a mauling that a great deal of hard talking and effort would be needed to recover. He also stated that the tactical thinking would need to change; the team would need to develop some scoring options other than Campbell and the pack.

"They must rebuild their scrum and lineout and loose forward pattern," Cameron explained. "They must again look at the back line whose development has been neglected." Not much work to do then. "The Lions now know it will take a superhuman effort merely to draw the series." A sadly accurate assessment of the problems facing the Lions.

Bodley was just as frank in his report. "Despite all their pre-match confidence, the Lions looked second-class citizens in the windy city. The mid-tour break for the British Lions in the Bay of Islands, planned as a celebration party, has turned into a wake." Calling for changes to be made, Bodley suggested Melville should be selected, also pushing for John Rutherford and Gwyn Evans to be introduced at centre and full back respectively.

McBride declared that the team would not surrender, yet with so many issues arising after the second Test, including whether Fitzgerald should stay on as captain, the tour was at the point of no return. If things did not improve, then Cameron's analysis that "these next four weeks will be a withering ordeal" sadly looked correct. The Lions were vulnerable; a repeat of their 4-0 hammering against New Zealand in 1966, was very much on the cards.

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