I have questions regarding the First Lions Test of 2017. Although, they are mostly for myself. About hope and shouting loudly at the TV in front of my children. There are things I need to do better. I’m working on them. Hopefully the Lions are working on their bad bits too.
Saturday morning’s visit to the church of despair went quite well. Sure, there was that inexorable feeling of coming up short, and that excruciating sense of unfairness you get when someone is just, basically, better than you, but we scored a very good try. And sometimes, that is what it is all about. Small victories.
Let’s talk about one particular moment in the match. You will have seen it, but perhaps not studied it in the level of detail needed. After all, too much focus is put on scores, results and overall performances (!). Such is the ascendancy of the All Blacks, it is best we focus on individual moments like this. It is good for the soul.
Here we go.
Anthony Watson has retreated to gather a ball punted downfield. He is wide on the right and deep in his 22. His instinct is to find his fullback Liam Williams. The All Black chase is good. Kieran Read is leading the charge and as the ball is spun inside, he appears bottom left of the screen. He was everywhere during the game, like some sort of omnipresent narrator. In a way, it is unfortunate he ends up as the mark here.
Williams receives the ball quite high on his chest. And almost instinctively, sensing the on rushing Kiwi Captain, moves the ball down with both hands in the direction of his foot. The Lions fullback already knows what might be possible.
Williams shapes his body as if to clear his lines. This is all part of it; like any confidence trickster, the tale needs to be well-told to be effective. A neat little thought is put in Read’s mind. ‘If he kicks it, with his right foot, I’m going to have to get across his body to charge it down’. The All Black places himself just a little wider than perhaps he needs to.
Williams positions his face and body pointing downfield (picture above), he doesn’t give anything away; he wants to make Read feel he doesn’t see him. Williams’ right foot is positioned behind him and he begins to bring it through. This is the final act in the set up; right up to this point Read thinks he is in with a chance.
Williams then reveals his plan. He has waited as long as possible. He stops half way through his stride and places his right foot on the floor to act as the plant to change direction. At this point Read is already committed. In fact, I think Read knows what is coming but it is too late. The frame below is perfect. As Read’s left foot hits the floor you can almost see the rest of his body cursing. He knows he’s about to be done.
Genuinely gorgeous moments like this can make wonderful players like Read look a bit stupid, and because of the way it has been constructed, Williams is able to avoid the tackler by a good yard. I like to think Anthony Watson is watching on like his namesake would have admired Sherlock Holmes. This is rugby chicanery of the highest order.
Read is the unfortunate stooge, the butt of a joke set up by a player sending out all the right signals, at exactly the right time. The photo above represents the exact moment he is defeated. His head and body tell the sad and undeniable truth.
Williams’ thoughts are already on the immediate future; Read is old news, the past, literally and metaphorically behind him. Buoyed by such an audacious move on the All Blacks Captain, he runs laterally infield looking for another gap, which he eventually finds. The confidence to do so is created by this feint.
Below is a beautiful moment. The All Black captain looks skyward. In the presence of such poetry, sometimes you have to.
Of course, the rest of the try was excellent too. Players supporting each other wonderfully. But this, for me, was the moment the Lions tour delivered. Pure, graceful, seemingly simple. Playing in the back garden of, undeniably, the greatest team on the planet, the Lions showed they were worthy. More please. Lots, lots more.
Sam Roberts © 2017. (Text only). All Rights Reserved