The British & Irish Lions blasted the Maori All Blacks 32-10. Here are all the talking points from the match-up in Rotorua
Watch as all the talk of this being the “unofficial fourth Test” disappears – the Lions exerted total and utter control over a Maori All Blacks team that never even flirted with the flair we were promised pre-match. In their 32-10 win, the Lions finally played unapologetically like themselves.
Several local fans were grumbling as Leigh Halfpenny unlatched his unerring boot, kicking seven from seven. They had paid to see basketball-style rugby, but what they got was a confident northern hemisphere showing. It was high kicks, punishment of infringements and calmness. The difference between their half-time score (the Lions led 12-10) and their full-time score shows the steadiness.
The hosts opened their try account first, though, with a jolter early on. The Maori try was a product of panic. With a Kick in behind, George North and Halfpenny raced back. North slid but spilt the ball after fly-hacking forward, Liam Messam helped himself to a score. North, unlike so many others, still does not look confident in himself.
It was the only moment of Maori dominance. This was a controlled display – though still mottled by the odd spill, and although discipline was markedly improved by the Lions it is worth noting that referee Jaco Peyper – who takes the whistle in the first Test against the All Blacks at Eden Park – is not a fan of petulance from players.
Halfpenny kept the scoreboard ticking over, though, and just as encouraging for them, there was a high level of set-piece superiority.
This showed at 51 minutes when the Lions scrum obliterated their Maori counterparts and Peyper went under the posts for a penalty try. This came after a number of offences by the hosts anyway, and Tawera Kerr-Barlow was shown a yellow card for a shoulder shunt on Halfpenny as he made a break for the line.
A second Lions try came from Itoje after another strong scrum. The pack will be eager to go again after this, and although there was no breakout score, again, there were glimmers as centres Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies created plenty of chances.They were so nearly there against the Maori.
A convincing win here may render it unimportant for many, but can the Lions score a few more tries? It is still a big thing to work on, alongside eradicating the errors that the All Blacks thrive on. Which in itself is a positive.
Here is what’s hot and what’s not from this one.
Which Lions caught the eye?
George Kruis – With ten minutes left, under the shadow of the Maori sticks, there was a slow ruck, ripe for picking off. Kruis saw off the danger with a monster clearout. It is this kind of work, allied with set-piece solidity, that makes Kruis an invaluable athlete. He only played an hour, but Henderson added fresh impetus from the pine. With Kruis’s mate Itoje winning Sky’s man of the match, there is a real sense of competition in the boiler house.
Johnny Sexton – All that fuss about Farrell tumbled away in the rain as Sexton showed what makes him such a strong competitor. Shouting the odds, making late challenges on the rucks. Two moments in the first half stood out in particular. The first was an outside break when the hole appeared in front of him and the second was a smart turn and nudge into the corner that was millimetre perfect. After the game, John Kirwan praised the fly-half and his mate Conor Murray for a smart performance.
Jonathan Davies – He is still missing that final pass, something that was displayed in the first half as he broke up the left side of the pitch and cut inside past defenders instead of running to draw men and unbutton a pass to the outside for support. However, when he surges through the line or floats near a menacing Te’o, he can alter a defence’s shape.
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Game management – No one wants to get carried away just yet about the Lions and the Maori backs in particular disappointed, the tourists made their hosts play the game they wanted. The key in New Zealand is never to be press-ganged into a game they enjoy. This was a good example of bloody-mindedness.
Lions set-piece – They drove well from the lineout and embarrassed the Maori scrum. Kick receptions worked well too. But perhaps what will have pleased Gatland’s assistants the most is ruck clearouts. We saw savage blasts from Kruis and then Henderson, but the team effort was impressive.
Chasing – The kicks that rained down (until the Maori lost their defensive shape and the Lions ran at the them) looked all the better for improved chasing. Too often people use missed tackle statistics as a stick to beat players, but on this night, if a tackle was missed on a kick chase, the catcher was invariably gobbled up. In the aerial game of chicken, the Lions edged it.
The conditions – The weather was rank. But it has been most of the tour. Not something to complain about but something to help explain why Murray and Halfpenny hoisted so many kicks skywards.
Maori cynicism – In the first half a complaint came in about the Maori All Blacks killing ball in their own 22. In the second half such tactics finally got on referee Jaco Peyper’s wick and he eventually snapped ten minutes into the second half.
Poor tannoy work – In a land where everyone is told to respect tradition and values, making potato jokes about the Irish seemed poor. Then when Itoje scored, it was announced that “Courtney Lawes” had gone over. The man on the mic also announced some phantom substitutions. Not a great day at the office.
1 – The number of penalties given away by the Lions in the second half.
75% – The territory the Lions enjoyed in the game. According to Gatland, they “squeezed the life out of them.”
67 – Tackles made by the Lions. That is so few, it is scary. They didn’t need to.
21 – Broken tackles by the Lions. With ten offloads added in, this was a more adventurous showing, but both of their tries came from the scrum.
Maori All Blacks: James Lowe; Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Proctor (Rob Thompson 53), Charlie Ngatai, Rieko Ioane; Damian McKenzie (Ihaia West 62), Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Bryn Hall 74); Kane Hames (Chris Eves 61), Ash Dixon (capt) (Hikawera Elliot 70), Ben May (Marcel Renata 70), Joe Wheeler (Leighton Price 70), Tom Franklin, Akira Ioane, Elliot Dixon (Kara Pryor 74), Liam Messam.
Tries: Messam. Cons: McKenzie. Pens: McKenzie.
Yellow card: Kerr-Barlow
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British & Irish Lions: Leigh Halfpenny; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te’o, George North (Elliot Daly 62); Johnny Sexton (D Biggar 66), Conor Murray (Greig Laidlaw 66); Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath 59), Jamie George (Ken Owens 64), Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler 64), Maro Itoje, George Kruis (Iain Henderson 59), Peter O’Mahony (capt)(Sam Warburton 62), Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau.
Tries: Penalty try (7 points), Itoje. Cons: Halfpenny. Pens: Halfpenny 6.