Rowntree warns Lions: Indiscipline will 'kill us'

Gatland’s heroes told to cut out the 'stupid penalties' to beat All Blacks

Maro Itoje
Maro Itoje on the charge for the Lions in Wellington
(Image credit: David Rogers/Getty Images)

Amid all the hype and hysteria after Saturday's thrilling victory against the All Blacks, one fact shouldn't be overlooked – except for their ferocious defence, the Lions didn't play well for most of the match despite their numerical advantage.

The red card given to Sonny Bill Williams after 25 minutes should have seen the Lions home comfortably but their shocking indiscipline could have cost them dear.

If Beauden Barrett had been his usual accurate self from the kicking tee, the All Blacks would have been out of sight going into the final quarter. But the Kiwi fly-half put three kickable attempts wide of the posts, allowing the Lions to claw back an 18-9 deficit in the final 21 minutes with tries from Taulupe Faletau and Conor Murray, plus a nerveless late penalty from Owen Farrell.

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The Lions’ 24-21 victory levels the series and means it's all to play for at Eden Park on Saturday in the third and final Test. In beating the All Blacks in Wellington, the Lions inflicted on New Zealand their first home defeat since they lost to South Africa in 2009 – a run of 47 Tests – and it was the first time the All Blacks have failed to score a try in a home Test since 2002.

But while thousands of Lions fans painted Wellington red over the weekend, Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree brought the squad back down to earth with a scathing assessment of their indiscipline.

"We have got to sort it out because it is going to kill us," said Rowntree of the 13 penalties conceded by the Lions. "We have to sit them down and show them every day. We can't be doing this. We have to keep reiterating that point to the players. We can't lose a Test series on the back of some stupid penalties. That would be unacceptable. How do you live with that for the rest of your life?"

Two of the most stupid were given away in quick succession by England prop Mako Vunipola, the second of which earned him a yellow card and ten minutes in the sin bin. That lack of composure – with the Saracens prop twice aiming cheap shots at Barrett – may well cost Vunipola his place in the starting line-up on Saturday.

Asked if reckless indiscipline might prompt head coach Warren Gatland to drop players, Rowntree replied: "If that is what it takes. Gats has shown he is not afraid of doing things like that. But it is not as if it is the same offenders. We will be very frank and objective with the lads. The pictures are undeniable. That will be a big theme of the week."

Another Lion who found himself in trouble on Saturday was flanker Sean O’Brien, the Irishman being cited for foul play after video replays showed his arm striking All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo. However, O'Brien, who was outstanding for the Lions on Saturday, was subsequently cleared by a disciplinary panel and he is free to play in the third Test.

Not so Williams, who has been banned for four weeks for his red-card offence. It was the first time an All Black has been sent off in a home international and only the third dismissal in their history (Cyril Brownlie at Twickenham in 1925 and Colin Meads at Murrayfield in 1967 being the other two), but Williams had no complaints as he emerged from his disciplinary hearing. "They've come to the conclusion that it was reckless, [but] that it wasn't intentional," said Williams. "I've got in contact with Anthony and I've apologised to him but I'm very disappointed that I was sent from the field last night and that I let my brothers down."

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