RUGBY UNION: Coach Daryl Gibson said the Waratahs had learned many lessons after being out-gunned by the Lions in a 91-point try-fest in Johannesburg.
In a game that saw 13 tries, the Lions ran the Waratahs off their feet in a 55-36 victory at Ellis Park.
The withdrawals of Wallabies Bernard Foley, Will Skelton and Nick Phipps hurt the Tahs but their discipline and 29 missed tackles were the real killers.
NSW played with 14 men for most of the first half after Reece Robinson (lifting tackle) and Sekope Kepu (maul collapse) both received yellow cards.
The Lions turned to their rolling maul close to the line, and a good offloading game in general play, and the hard sting of altitude on the Waratahs' lungs and legs did the rest.
NSW conceded five tries in the opening half and though they did well to keep in touch -even going try-for-try early -the Lions' 33-24 lead at halftime blew out to 55-29 as the home side did most of the second-half scoring.
A Dave McDuling try secured a four-try bonus point and Israel Folau grabbed a try on the siren to reduce the margin narrowed to 19 points. NSW with one bonus point in the loss.
"We will take a great deal from today. There were a number of lessons for us," Gibson said.
"What I was pleased with was we scored five tries relatively easy. What we need to do is sort out how to prevent tries and that's the more disappointing thing - how easily we conceded."
The three areas on Gibson's classroom chalkboard that will go under the heading of Must Improve will be discipline, tackling and maul defence.
The Lions turned to their rolling maul on the Tahs line often and they scored three tries directly from it, and another from close range.
Missing Skelton's destructive size to sack the maul, the Tahs tried unsuccessfully to bring it down and were repeatedly penalised. Kepu copped a card for the last infringement of many.
"Obviously that's an area of concern for us, how easy we conceded there. The Lions had a very good maul and we have to work out a way to defend the maul more successfully," Gibson said.
Accordingly, the Tahs were on the wrong side of the referee most of the afternoon and were hammered 16-8 in the penalty count.
Most were justified, although it must be said breakdown interpretations were frequently mystifying and head and neck contact from the Lions was often ignored.
The Lions' success in recent years stemmed from a realisation they have a built-in natural leg-up at home - thin air at altitude - and re-building their game to take advantage.
As they did in eight of 10 home wins last year, the Lions began the game at a breakneck speed and using offloads wherever possible; knowing that once your rival is cooked at altitude, they stay cooked.
NSW's strategy in defence was to cut down and get on the ball, but it allowed ball-runners to free the arms and with the foot on the floor for all players, by the 10th minute the Tahs' players looked spent. The Lions, meanwhile, were fine.
That disparity only got worse as the game went on, and the fatigue saw even the most reliable Waratahs' defenders fall off tackles and concede linebreaks or tries. They finished the game with 29 missed tackles.
"That's a horrific tackle stat. But I am not taking away from Lions," Gibson said.
On the flip side, the lack of punch in NSW's defence was followed up by tired legs in attack and the Lions gobbled up their tight ball runners. Only when the ball went wide, and NSW used their offloading, did they threaten.
"That's the chaotic way the Lions play and that's the way we love playing," Gibson said.
"There are long periods of time where the ball is in play and both teams were doing well in terms of going forward and then shifting the ball into spaces. Some excellent tries were scored."
Asked about the impact of altitude, Gibson said: "You'd have to ask the players. We don't talk about it. You get out there and It's the same for both teams.
"It's a new experience for our boys. Obviously breathing pretty heavy after about 10 minutes, so we will learn from that."
The Waratahs head down to sea-level to play the Sharks in Durban best weekend.
Gibson indicated he expects Foley, Skelton and Phipps will play, although another positive was the performance of Matt Lucas at halfback..
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