New Lions impress after finding their feet

NEW England had a few Lion cubs on Saturday.

Several of the colts and opens were having their first runs with the zone side.

“A lot of the guys were first time starters for the New England opens’ side,” coach Luke Stephen said.

There were a few stepping up from the 20s. Some were playing their first games ever for the Lions.

Luke Batts, Sam Blatchfield, Rod Lewis were in that boat after joining Barbarians this season.

Stephen hadn’t really seen anything of them before so it was good to get a bit of a look at them.

The day kicked off with the Lions 20s playing the Central North 20s.

The Kookaburras took the points but Lions coach Mark Charter took plenty of positives out of the game.

“It gave us the chance to see how combinations work together,” he said.

For their first hit-out he thought they played well.

“We were a feeling our way at the start of the periods,” he said.

“The longer the game went the more impressive they looked.” 

In both the first two periods the Kookaburras looked dominant early but the Lions worked their way into the game and got a bit more parity in possession and territory, and on the scoreboard.

“When we could get multiple phases we looked dangerous,” Charter said.

He was particularly pleased with how they performed in the set pieces, especially given they had some very inexperienced players there.

Skipper Ollie Bartlett was a standout in the second row.

Charter was also impressed by tighthead prop Solo Vanakokolo. 

“It was his first ever game playing a full game at tight-head.”

Dan Sweeney also looked good at five-eighth. He threw some fantastic balls. 

Following the colts, the opens tackled the Kookaburras and then Western Plains.

It’s about building towards the structure they want to play. 

The day did highlight the need to work on their defence, and particularly defensive 


They were exposed a few times in defence.

Stephen put that, in part, down to communication and not having really played together.

It also affected them in attack, although Stephen isn’t too worried.

“The communication will come with training and games,” he said. 

One of the areas he thought they did really well in was the set pieces. 

“Our lineout went well in both games,” he said.

“The front row (also) worked really well together.”

“Angus Webb was having his first game at this level.

“He was one of our best at hooker.”

A big part of Saturday was having a look at different combinations. One that did serve them well was Matt Houlahan and James Reynolds in the halves.

That wasn’t surprising with the two playing together at St Alberts.

“They looked good together at times,” Stephen said.

“And the wingers did a good job linking with the ball.”

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