The good and the bad of the British & Irish Lions’ game against the Chiefs
Jack Nowell crossed twice as the 2017 Lions secured their first midweek win, seeing off the Chiefs with ease in Hamilton.
They scored four tries in all – Jared Payne also touching down and a penalty try awarded after a maul was collapsed close to the line – and dominated at the set-piece too. It was the first time the midweek team has built a lead and maintained it, a significant step forward and important in maintaining momentum for the first Test.
The Chiefs were kept scoreless in the second half and offered little in attack, perhaps understandable given the number of players they had unavailable.
For all the talk of the six new Lions call-ups on the bench, just Allan Dell made it onto the pitch, and only then because Joe Marler was sin-binned early in the first half. Warren Gatland stuck to his plan to only use those recent additions if it was absolutely necessary.
All in all, it was a good night for the Lions.
Which Lions caught the eye?
The back three – It’s fair to say that many of the back-three contingent in this tour party had underperformed in the previous games, but the trio chosen against the Chiefs sparked into life in Hamilton. Jack Nowell crossed for two tries and popped up in the middle of the park regularly. Elliot Daly was lively on his wing and his substitution on the 60-minute mark could be an indication that he will be involved in the first Test, even if he did return to the action for the closing minutes when Jared Payne went for an HIA. Liam Williams made several trademark jinky runs and set up Payne’s second-half try.
Courtney Lawes – He stole a lineout inside his own 22 in the opening minutes, put in an important tap tackle on Toni Pulu after ten minutes and dived on a loose ball to give the Lions a counter-attacking opportunity around the half-hour mark. Those were just three of the lock’s contributions in the opening 40 minutes as he produced another impressive display. He suffered a head injury for the second time in a week, going off after 50 minutes for an HIA, and when he returned he probably didn’t have the same impact. It has to be said that all the second-rows in the Lions squad have performed well on this tour and it will interesting to see who earns that bench spot for the first Test behind expected starters George Kruis and Maro Itoje.
Atmosphere – It was a full house of 29,974 at Waikato Stadium, more fans crammed in than normal with additional seating added, and despite being enclosed in a glass media box, you could sense the noise and colour in the ground. Lions fans have definitely grown in number and the home fans were ringing their cowbells loudly. A cracking atmosphere in Hamilton.
Adventurous spirit – The Lions have been criticised in these parts for their limited game plan but they showed a more attack-minded streak here – the dry conditions no doubt playing a part. Yes, their set-piece was sill dominant, but they also showed a willingness to run the ball. This was personified by Jack Nowell’s second try, when the Lions launched a counter-attack from their own 22, spread the ball wide to Elliot Daly, who broke down the wing before passing the ball back inside, where it was recycled, fed out to Nowell, who picked a good angle to get over the line.
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Ref humour – Frenchman Jerome Garces took control of this match and had those with ref links chuckling midway through the first half. Speaking to Cheifs scrum-half Finlay Christie, he said: “You speak too much. If you want to play quick don’t speak to me.” Then in the second half when Joe Marler had his head strapped, the prop joked to Garces: “How do I look?” And the official raised a smile. GSOH.
Ill-discipline – It’s been the common theme of these midweek Lions performances. After 20 minutes there was a shout of “discipline” from one of the tourists but even at that point they had a man in the bin – Joe Marler yellow-carded for a needless no-arms tackle. By half-time they had already conceded more penalties than in the entire match against the Maori All Blacks (six compared to four). Things improved in the second half, but they make things difficult for themselves with their own mistakes and infringements.
Mitch Brown – In a similar vein, Chiefs back-row Mitch Brown was almost a one-man penalty machine, being pinged a handful of times before getting sin-binned for collapsing a maul – an offence that resulted in a penalty try for the Lions. Maybe a little eager to make an impression.
Chiefs: Shaun Stevenson; Toni Pulu (Chase Tiatia 12), Tim Nanai-Williams, Johnny Fa’auli, Solomon Alaimalo (Luteru Laulala 66); Stephen Donald (capt), Finlay Christie; Siegfried Fisiihoi (Aidan Ross 65), Liam Polwart (Hika Elliot 60), Nepo Laulala (Atu Moli 65), Dominic Bird, Michael Allardice (Mitch Karpik 65), Mitch Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Tom Sanders (Liam Messam 55).
Pens: Donald 2.
Yellow card: Brown (55min).
Lions: Liam Williams; Jack Nowell, Jared Payne (Daly 77), Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly (Tommy Seymour 60); Dan Biggar, Greig Laidlaw; Joe Marler, Rory Best (capt), Dan Cole, Iain Henderson, Courtney Lawes (Alun Wyn Jones 50-58), James Haskell (Allan Dell 14-24), Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander.
Tries: Nowell 2, penalty (7pts), Payne. Cons: Biggar 3. Pens: Biggar 2.
Yellow card: Marler (12min).