British and Irish Lions power game shown up as a glaring weakness against the All Blacks

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The second-row was supposed to be the Lions’ strongest suit and many hours, whether on social media or Warren Gatland’s war room, had been spent winnowing down five freight trains to a Test two.

George Kruis – who forwards coach Steve Borthwick mentored at Saracens – was a presumably safe pair of hands at the lineout. In Gatland’s words it was a toss-up between the three-tour veteran Alun-Wyn Jones and Maro Itoje, who had not been born the last time New Zealand lost at Eden Park. But Courtney Lawes had signed off his Test case with an exclamation mark after a superb tour to date and the rangy Iain Henderson had also done little wrong.

Ultimately the Lions Express never left the station. The All Blacks’ combination of Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock was an ugly reminder that whatever the tourists could do, the world champions can do infinitely better.

Jones, and especially Kruis, had poor games but to place them under too harsh a glare obscures just how average they were made to look by the opposition.

Retallick was unable to name one England player before the Red Rose toured his islands in 2014 – when pressed he offered ‘Michael Lawes’ – and the Lions faded into anonymity in his mind here.

It can be hard to work out just where Retallick’s arms end and his hands begin. He plunged into every ruck, offloaded at near impossible angles and strangled off Lions carries in a python grip.

Twelve carries saw him make 38 metres. Kruis and Jones combined made seven metres from six. Freight trains? Try featherweights.

Predictably the knives were out for both in the aftermath but even after Itoje, the people’s champion, entered the fray, the Lions conceded two further tries and their scrum looked at its shakiest.

The grim fact is that no matter the personnel on the pitch, the Lions were held at arm’s length: in the carry, in the scrum, in the ruck.

There is no point quibbling over the minutiae of Gatland’s selection as, aside for an Itoje here or there, it was seen as the strongest, most exciting XV the Lions could offer.

But even the better performers were outmatched by their counterparts. Taulupe Faletau would swap all of his 21 tackles to possess the dynamism of All Blacks skipper Kieran Read. Jamie George also put in a shift with 20 tackles, but watched the hooker clad in black pick up a pass off his bootlaces to score. Codie Taylor is not even the All Blacks’ first choice No2.

That those two made so many stops also underlines just how much of the game the Lions spent on the back foot. Aaron Smith churned out a staggering 103 passes, most of those from the base of rucks that the tourists never even looked like contesting.

Lions captain Peter O’Mahony mustered none of the ‘Munster mongrel’ that Gatland had praised him for and Sean O’Brien came off a distant second to Sam Cane on the openside.

The tourists’ best attacking moments involved few forwards as Liam Williams, Elliot Daly and Jonathan Davies strived to make something out of precious little.

The Lions must reignite their pack but don’t let it be said they were bested at their own game. It was the All Blacks’ to begin with.

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