You can fret about French referees, but I'll save all the angst for the state of the All Blacks after watching the mighty Lions destroy the Crusaders.

Beauden Barrett's thigh injury is at the top of the worry queue, and again raises the question about why the All Blacks have risked their star players in recent smash ups. And smash the Lions did.

The Kiwi rugby mob has a nasty habit of blaming referees when things don't go to plan. As baffling as Mathieu Raynal was at times, particularly at scrums, the Crusaders were beaten fair and square.

Actually, they were crushed fair and square with Warren Gatland's hefty Lions unveiling the opening salvo in something I dub the 'dirty war', a way of playing which represents their best test plan.


Under the pump after two shabby games, the Lions were bloody brilliant led by their giant prop Mako Vunipola and what should be their number one halves combo of Conor Murray and Owen Farrell.

There have already been complaints that the Lions didn't score a try, didn't do this and that, played stilted rugby. Well, that's their business: they are not here to wow the Kiwi public. And their inability to finish off tries tends to make them appear more dour than they actually are.

They are here to do a job, win a series, any way they can. Slowing the game down, pushing the offside line, winning over the referee, frustrating their opponents, bombs, drop goals...whatever it takes.

One of the captivating things about rugby is the different styles. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the clinical way the Lions strangled and pummeled the Crusaders would have been a joy to watch for their supporters. They minimised the open field risks, saved attacking bursts for the short side and were far superior than the nine point margin indicated.

Full marks to Gatland. As he said after the Crusaders Capitulation, he's copped some quite personal criticism (guilty here) and quickly emerged with a performance that suggests it is game on for the test series.

The Steve Hansen factor can't be overlooked. He has the magic touch. But with the Lions turning kind-of nasty in Christchurch, the All Blacks suddenly look a little frail.

There are fitness doubts about their tight loosies - Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino and Liam Squire. Kaino might be over the hill, or incredibly close to it. Read - who will have been out for two months - is not the Read of old. The great lock Brodie Retallick has been resting with injury.

The best All Black hooker by a country mile, Dane Coles, is out although he gets to hang around the squad. One of his backups, Nathan Harris, would be due a truckload of bright red jelly if hospitals operated loyalty cards.


As for Ofa Tu'ungafasi, I've got no idea why he is there apart from his alleged propping versatility. Nepo Laulala in particular and Kane Hames - who have already received the All Blacks tick - are surely superior. Indeed, as a general policy, the fewer Blues forwards the better. The best trench warfare troops come from the Crusaders, Highlanders and Chiefs.

Moving on, to the backs...Israel Dagg looked stuffed on Saturday night. Ben Smith has just taken his second concussion ding in the season. Julian Savea? Inconsistent.

Sonny Bill Williams had magic moments for the Blues against the Lions, but he's not been connecting with team mates like the SBW of old this season. Anton Lienert-Brown was down on form although his subtle shifts are a marvel to behold and he had something of a breakthrough in the Chiefs' win over the Hurricanes.

Barrett has not been so impressive in the past couple of weeks, and it remains to be seen if the little cement truck Ngani Laumape has the all round game for test rugby. Ryan Crotty and Aaron Cruden are current casualties, and Lima Sopoaga is on the comeback trail. Goalkicking remains an issue, especially when Farrell and co. are on the other side.

And what the heck is Akira Ioane doing in the back-up brigade? He is a ponderous loosie who prefers to skirt around tacklers and is nowhere near ready for test football, despite all the obvious gifts. Maybe he is the latest apprentice, but a Lions series is no place for apprentices. It was a shock to see his name there - has Hansen gone mad?

It actually looks like a bit of an injury and form crisis, now that the Lions have fired up. The tourists will be buzzing, although they are to accepting try-scoring chances what Donald J. Trump is to subtle diplomacy.


Do I sound nervous? Well yes I am, a little. And apologies to Warren Gatland: the Lions were rubbish in the first two games but you deserved more respect, particularly so soon after arrival. And congratulations, for bashing the tour into shape.