The first British & Irish Lions’ match on South African soil hasn’t been particularly memorable. The Sigma Lions are the less equipped team of the 4 that are challenging Gatland’s team and in this match they didn’t make any serious threat to the men in red.
During the 80 minutes, some interesting features emerged anyhow, especially during the offensive phase.
One of the new features compared to the match against Japan was the use of the tip-on pass before going into contact. The Lions’ forward used this solution within the pod of three to shift the point of contact and avoid a head-on collision against the defenders, as shown in the clip below. This idea, which is really interesting to avoid a direct physical confrontation against the South African forwards, combined with the use of footwork and evasion before contact could be an important weapon for Gatland’s team. This kind of tactic isn’t without risks because requires good handling skills and precise execution and it could expose the carrier to turnovers if the supporting players don’t react quickly enough to the carrier’s actions. (Last action of the clip)
The same lineout option used against Japan was employed again against the Sigma Lions. In this option, the scrum-half and a winger are deployed in the lineout, and they don’t have to stay 10 meters away, as the other backline players. During the second half Price and Adams were used, without great success, near the maul, but this tactic is really interesting because it allows some backs to stay near the lineout area. These quick players could be used both on the short side and on the open side, bringing some headache to the defense. We’ll surely see some interesting evolution of this offensive solution.
Talking about the general offensive set up the selection of Russell at 10 and Farrell at 12 allowed, helped by the poor defensive performance of the opposition, a more unpredictable use of the ball. The first try of the match (Clip below) is a clear example of that. The Lions are set up for an exit strategy with a box-kick by the scrum-half but Russell spots some space out wide and calls for the ball and allows Harris to make lots of ground. During the following phases, it’s possible to notice the deployment of the forward, with a classic pod of 3 near the breakdown. The other forwards are divided into a pod of three in the middle and a pod of two out wide. As highlighted before is possible to see the use of the tip-on pass and, on top of that, the variation of the receiving player of the pod (sometimes the middle one, sometimes the wider one) to create further unpredictable of the offensive movement.
The deployment of the forwards in the offensive line was slightly changed compared to the previous game. The 1-3-3-1 of the Japanese game was changed in a 3-3-2, probably due to the different players selected in this match or maybe in order to try some different variations of the tactic. The next games will bring some interesting answers.
Another nice variation happens at the end of the game where, after a restart instead of going with a classic exit strategy using a box-kick the Lions decide to move the ball out wide and use the left boot of Daly to explore the backfield and gain a good field position.