It may not have had any tries but this was a game of grit and vigour as the Lions defeated a Crusaders side who have gone unbeaten all Super Rugby season, 12-3.
Neither team could kill anything off, but the Lions will be most pleased with their defensive shape. So often the Crusaders ball-carriers were inhaled – unable to get away that killer pass. remember this is a team that have averaged 37 points a game so far this season.
The Lions will be less than impressed with their own lack of silk when a try looked nailed on. Right at the start of the game they broke through, but Jonathan Davies threw an intercept when George North was gaping at an open try and in the second half CJ Stander could have cantered towards the try-line, but Anthony Watson sat on the pass too long and the when he did send it, Stander coughed it up.
Watson – on for Stuart Hogg, who took a horrible clatter from Conor Murray and failed a head injury assessment – may have spurned a few gilt-edged chances, but he did look dangerous from 15. There were also some clattering carries from Mako Vunipola and Ben Te’o.
Of course, when you hold the Super Rugby leaders only scoring three points, squeezing them, tying them up and frustrating them in defence, or turning them with kicks then you always have a chance. Four penalties for Owen Farrell saw it out and maybe some will be disappointed with the Crusaders’ output, but their own defence was strong too. Few can argue with the result.
Here are the Lions’ standout players and some key talking points…
Which Lions caught the eye?
Conor Murray – An incredible kicking display from the scrum-half. This was his first foray for the Lions on this tour, but he looked comfortable all game. Sound service too. After the game the Crusaders’ coach Scott Robertson called Murray “world class” after that kicking display.
Peter O’Mahony – At times he looked a little too fired up, but his was the kind of performance other players love to play alongside. He put in a rock solid defensive shift and did the ugly stuff so others could carry. He offers a little bit of everything when he’s at his best.
Owen Farrell – His kicking keeps you in games, of course, but this was a real shepherding performance. He frustrated the Crusaders all night by moving them. In defence he knew exactly where he fitted in and he communicated smartly outside Murray. And when Johnny Sexton came on and slotted into ten, Farrell calmly shuffled out – even crashing it up when he had to.
The Lions’ defence – Coach Andy Farrell will be incredibly chuffed with his charges today. This game had the little bit of niggle that some believe has been missing for the last few games. The Crusaders were forced to break out from a distance to try and score but they were either reeled in or forced to kick it ahead.
Units bedding in – Barring one little hiccup, the lineout looked solid and Warren Gatland was chuffed with it post-match. This could turn into a real theme for the series once everyone gets more confident. And this pool of half-backs look promising.
The Crusaders scrum – They looked strong, at one point motoring the Lions back, but fell foul of referee Mathieu Raynal. They certainly weren’t happy about it, but the Lions looked to play the official better.
Where are the tries? – We were told until our ears bled that the Crusaders were the best of the best of the best. They couldn’t get over the line. On the other side, the Lions looked confident and adventurous… until they reached the 22m line. It would be good to see Watson take players on one-on-one… But hey-ho, it was still good fun.
Sexton’s third shift – Firstly, it is worth noting that Sexton looked good in the second half after replacing Jonathan Davies, off for a HIA. It also gave us our first chance to see a Sexton-Farrell axis at ten and 12. But it also meant Sexton has played over a half of rugby in all three games. He didn’t look to suffer, but it’s not an ideal situation, considering the calibre of opposition the Lions have faced and will face.
The Saders’ dealing with the ‘Washing machine’ – Head coach Scott Robertson spoke of how Farrell turned his Crusaders team by putting the ball into the corner and how his side struggled to “go up and down and up and down”. It goes to show, you can’t always run out of danger.
9 – the number of clean breaks the Lions made, compared to the Crusaders’ 3.
76 – the number of metres made by Anthony Watson after coming on – the most by any player. He caused concerns for the Crusaders from full-back, without finishing anything off.
14 – the number of tackles by Matt Todd, the most in the game. The flank is one of the Crusaders’ standout players this season.
6 – Lineouts taken by George Kruis.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Seta Tamanivalu, Josh Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge (Tim Bateman 66), Richie Mo’unga (Mitch Hunt 74), Bryn Hall (Mitchell Drummond 61), Joe Moody (Wyatt Crockett 50), Codie Taylor (Ben Funnell 50), Owen Franks (Michael Alaalatoa 50), Luke Romano (Quenten Strange 55), Sam Whitelock (capt), Heiden Bedwell-Curtis (Jed Brown 61), Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua.
Lions: Stuart Hogg (Anthony Watson 19); George North, Jonathan Davies (Johnny Sexton 27); Ben Te’o, Liam Williams; Owen Farrell; Conor Murray; Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath 61), Jamie George (Ken Owens 65), Tadhg Furlong (Dan Cole 65); Alun Wyn Jones (capt), George Kruis (Maro Itoje 61); Peter O’Mahony, Sean O’Brien (CJ Stander 55), Taulupe Faletau
Subs not used: Rhys Webb
Pens: Farrell 4.