Errors of commission, home advantage and the 2017 Lions series


Listen to the noise of the crowd at two pivotal moments of the 2017 Lions series, and the impression is striking.

Kyle Sinckler leaps into the tackle of Charlie Faumuina in the 77th minute of the second test, and without delay the left arm of Jérôme Garcès shoots into the Wellington sky. A roar of approval rises from the thousands of Lions fans on their quadrennial pilgrimage, matched and emulated only by that which follows Owen Farrell’s successful conversion of the resulting penalty kick.

Likewise, as Beauden Barrett kicks off in the final minutes of the deciding test and Kieran Read times his run and jump to perfection, it is their inimitable rallying cry that resounds at Eden Park. After Ken Owens’ catch in an offside position, Romain Poite reacts as swiftly as his compatriot at the Westpac Stadium – and it is the turn of the locals in the crowd to spring to their feet. After confirming his decision with TMO George Ayoub and relaying to the captains that Read’s leap has been adjudged a fair challenge in the air, Poite walks calmly towards the spot of the penalty until an interjection from Garcès himself – the assistant referee on the far side of the field, and the only official not involved in the previous consultation. “Oui, Jérôme” – this is all that is heard on the referee’s microphone for a period of around thirty seconds, at which point Poite informs Warburton and Read that in fact Owens’ actions did not constitute a deliberate attempt to play the ball. Kiwi boos and British & Irish cheers cancel each other out in equal measure, and the rest is history.

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Halfway to the 2019 Rugby World Cup

The analysis of international rugby is laden with danger. Fixtures are infrequent (on average, Tier 1 nations have played fewer than 12 games per season across 2016 and 2017), yet the traditional depiction of test matches – imbued with a deep emotional resonance – lends itself to the inference of significant meaning from single data points. A loss by New Zealand in a test match is attributed with significance that a loss by Saracens in a Premiership game is not, because of the sparsely populated environment in which it stands. For another data point on a club or franchise, it may only be necessary to wait another seven days; months can pass between internationals. The degree of light which a single game can shed on the underlying abilities of the respective teams is the same in each scenario, but the difference in the first case is that an additional data point to confirm or deny a suspected trend is usually not far away; analysis can be measured and sceptical, knowing that in a short time a little more information will become available, rather than conclusive and emphatic.

Two years into a World Cup cycle there is sufficient information available to review the performance of each team, with Tier 1 nations having played between 20 and 29 test matches each. What follows is an attempt to establish not only which teams have been successful, but also the tactical approach which they have employed in order to be successful.

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Attack analysis: how will New Zealand attack the Lions’ defence at Eden Park?

The Lions’ Saturday team has produced two dominant defensive performances against the Crusaders and the New Zealand Maori, but will face their greatest challenge in Eden Park on Saturday. What can we learn about this contest from the Crusaders’ lack of success with ball in hand in Christchurch, and the All Blacks’ attacking dominance against Samoa?

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