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.