Handle the pressure
There are two different camps now, and it is not midweek versus Test team. There are players who look happy, confident and, most importantly, themselves. They are performing and delivering at an intensity level that will cause the All Blacks problems. Others seem weighed down by the shirt, the size of the occasion. Pressure affects everyone differently. The Lions in New Zealand is a pressure cooker.
Keep their discipline
Discipline is not good enough at important moments. The problem reared its head again against the Highlanders, with at least 13 penalties given away by the 70-minute mark. Keep the penalty count below 10 and you stand a chance. Go above that, and you will lose. The issue facing the Lions is that, when they dominate, they are fine; when rattled, they offend. And the All Blacks will rattle you.
Smarter, cleaner offloads
Offloads are clunky. The Kiwi teams are doing twice as many and do them twice as well. The other telling point is around 50/50 balls; the ones that bounce just in front of you, hang in the air a little longer from a tap back. Some Lions players attack the balls with hands like feet. Tense, anxious, sharp grabs, or complete misses. With these errors, chances and points are not being taken, matches are lost.
Be stronger at set-piece
Line-outs are going great, and the ball is being taken in the air cleanly. But when the players are back on the ground, few dynamic drives or attacks are being launched. This static, slow ball kills momentum. Scrums are up and down. Some strong, some splintered. Dan Cole, Ken Owens and Jack McGrath got wiped out at one scrum in Dunedin and it changed the game. The fight up front wins the game.
We can hide from it as much as we like but when the ball is in play, New Zealanders' superior natural ability shines through. For the Lions, there is no shame in admitting this. It just means they need to be patient. The Blues lured the Lions into running from deep. Too often this meant they ended up losing control. The Lions should engage on their own terms and then build pressure.
Stick to principles
Do not be embarrassed to win by whatever means required. Kick for territory, kick to compete, kick to clear lines and compete at line-outs. There are no extra points for aesthetics or a spectacular try. Do not let anyone lecture you about "entertainment". Focus on the goal of winning the next match, and the series. Forget what the others are doing. Pick a plan, play to your strengths, execute to win.
Cope without get-outs
The lack of a unified nationality is both the Lions' strength and their weakness. On the plus side, you put rivalries aside and you bond. But you also must cope without the calls and emergency, hard-yard plays built into your national team structure. They are triggered in moments of stress, and they buy you a yard or win a gain line. When you go behind with the Lions, you cannot access those plays.
Use the bench for impact
For a squad comprising the best internationals from the home nations, the players coming off the bench have not been forceful enough thus far on the tour. Against the Highlanders in Dunedin, the match-day squad boasted 1,091 caps. By contrast, the Highlanders had a combined 50 caps, yet the tourists failed to close a game out when they were 22-13 up.
Be more clinical
Do not let the Highlanders scoreline fool you. The Lions lost by only a point but an indoor arena helps any side to look better. In their opening three games, Warren Gatland's side were profligate. They created plenty of opportunities, yet scored just twice. This was because they took poor options and were inaccurate in their execution. No question, this has to improve.
In public, the Lions have been very clear that only the Test results matter. The other matches are building the side towards the main goal. But to win in New Zealand you need strong inner confidence. This is being chipped away at. The match against Maori All Blacks last night, then, was critical. The Lions needed to find a result no matter what they say about the warm-up games, of which they did. Progression is vital.