British and Irish Lion 2017: The Lions had the chances, the All Blacks had the class

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New Zealand 30-15 British and Irish Lions: Gatland rues errors in loss
Hurricanes v British and Irish Lions
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington Date: Tuesday, 27 June Kick-off: 08:35 BST
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

I had so many emotions coming into this game.

Before the tour party departed for New Zealand, I thought the All Blacks would win comfortably.

But then I considered South Africa and Australia's decline since the last Rugby World Cup, that England and Ireland have both risen in the rankings, that Scotland beat the Wallabies in Sydney last week, and thought the balance of power was shifting from southern to northern hemisphere rugby.

I looked at the considerable strength and quality of the squad at Warren Gatland's disposal.

Then I added in some weather forecasts that suggested there might be favourable conditions for the Lions forwards at Eden Park.

And maybe I got carried away.

Anthony Watson and Maro Itoje
Anthony Watson and Maro Itoje won IRB Junior World Championships with England in 2013 and 2014 respectively

In the opening three minutes, you saw Jonathan Davies go through, offload to Conor Murray and the Lions come up to within a metre.

From there, the All Blacks score.

But the Lions didn't.

Instead Elliot Daly was bundled into touch by a superb bit of defence from Israel Dagg and that set the tone for the game.

How the All Blacks won...

New Zealand's players have an individual skill set far above any of their rival teams.

Take second row Brodie Retallick, who is 6ft 8 and 19 and a half stone.

He can push in the scrum and jump in the line-out in his sleep.

Brodie Retallick
Brodie Retallick made 38 metres with ball in hand, more than starting fly-half Beauden Barrett

When he wakes up though, he plays with the distribution and space awareness of a centre.

From one to 15, they all have the X-factor. But as well as the ability to execute remarkable handling skills, they also have an understanding of how best to deploy them.

Wing Rieko Ioane's first try was a case in point.

The All Blacks had the penalty advantage after a great scrum, but Kieran Read was not only able to scoop an extraordinary off-load off the floor to scrum-half Aaron Smith, but also to realise that, with the Lions pack wheeled, he was opening up the tourists' weak side.

Three passes later Ioane was in.

They were the eye-catching moments.

In general play though, their superiority sprung from a simple aspect of the game that is taught all the way from mini-rugby as a child.

They were coming onto the ball at pace. Or if not, they passed to someone who could.

It meant that they made yards to gain territory, it gave them the upper hand in the breakdown to secure possession and opened up the options of off-loads from which they create try-scoring chances.

The hosts won the collisions.

Rieko Ioane
Ioane, 20, scored two tries on his first All Blacks start after being picked ahead of Julian Savea and Waisake Naholo

It was especially important given New Zealand attacked with less width than normal to try and avoid being trapped by a Lions rush that comes up quicker on the outside.

After the match, Gatland called for his men to be more physical, while counterpart Steve Hansen mocked the Lions' presumptions of front-five dominance.

Both coaches knew that basic truth.

...but how the Lions could have won

The beautiful aspect of rugby is that through cohesion, organisation and commitment you can negate a team of more talented individuals and win through the collective.

The Lions will have come off the pitch at Eden Park thinking about what might have been because they had the opportunities to make the result very different.

They created plenty of chances from long range, one was finished by Sean O'Brien for a spectacular try after Liam Williams' deft sidestep inside his own 22m.

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But others were left unexploited.

Daly came close early on and could have put Liam Williams in after collecting Owen Farrell's kick on the half hour.

Jonathan Davies' break should have delivered at least five points at the start of the second half before Anthony Watson's weaving run had the All Blacks stretched, but ultimately unbreached.

Rhys Webb's try in the last play of the game may have been meaningless in terms of this weekend, but it was an important psychological blow. Whether it is the first minute or the last, the All Blacks hate conceding.

If the Lions finished off what they created, they could have won this game and that is their glimmer of hope.

Set the pace, rather than play catch-up

The All Blacks always seem to come on strong in the final 20 minutes. The Lions need to be leading rather than chasing as the second Test heads into that decisive period.

I would go for younger, more athletic, options from the start.

Starting Maro Itoje ahead of Alun Wyn Jones in the second row would be the most obvious way to increase the dynamism of the side.

Alun Wyn Jones
Jones was replaced by Maro Itoje after 48 minutes

The 22-year-old England lock is an 80-minute animal and made an impact after coming off the bench with a fine line-out steal and several good cover tackles.

Webb's try was a fine piece of opportunism and fellow scrum-half Conor Murray had a couple of wayward kicks, but I would ignore calls for the Welshman to come in from the start.

Webb is a finisher, revelling in the open spaces and tired defences late on, but is too much of an individual to start.

However, I would have a long think about possibly replacing Owen Farrell, who lacked his usual influence, with Johnny Sexton at 10.

Farrell didn't play badly, but his positive contribution was not that obvious either. He missed a kick that by his own high standards was eminently makeable.

Perhaps bringing CJ Stander in ahead of Sam Warburton on the bench would bring more physicality and ball-carry ballast. Maybe Iain Henderson could come in to the 23 as a replacement.

There are not too many changes to make. Ultimately, whoever you put out, you are up against the All Blacks, who are just a phenomenal team.

Lions tour fixtures
3 JuneProvincial BarbariansWon 13-7
7 JuneBluesLost 22-16
10 JuneCrusadersWon 12-3
13 JuneHighlandersLost 23-22
17 JuneMaori All BlacksWon 32-10
20 JuneChiefsWon 34-6
24 JuneNew ZealandLost 30-15
27 JuneHurricanes
1 JulyNew Zealand
8 JulyNew Zealand

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