Another cracking match and a fantastic occasion in front of a vocal vociferous capacity crowd. This is what tour matches should be about. Very intense and very physical with no quarter asked or given. Tempers frayed and it often boiled over which showed how much it meant to both teams.
Ultimately yellow cards proved decisive as both teams scored tries when the opposition went down to 14 men. It was certainly refreshing to see the Lions make the most of their numerical advantage and take their chances. In a similar vein, the loss of Iain Henderson with 15 minutes to go was equally decisive as the Hurricanes upped their game in this period and really went for the kill, scoring two tries and nearly a third.
However, it was a bizarre match in many ways as the Lions were arguably fortunate to be 23-7 ahead at half time yet then were good value to be 14 points up in the middle of the second half and if George North could have scored when he put his foot in touch then it would have been game over. However, once the scores were level then the Lions were hanging on for a spell and could quite easily have lost.
Ultimately though, it was frustrating for the Lions not to win when ahead all match up until the 75th minute and at the very end in the final play of the match they just couldn’t quite set up the right platform for Biggar to drop a goal. It seemed he was too far out and they really needed to replicate what England did when they won the RWC back in 2003 by carrying the ball much further into the opposition’s half so the drop goal became much easier. However, as always, these things are always easier said than done.
It was a very strong battle up front which probably ended with honours about even, like the final score. The physicality was intense and both sides made huge hits and it was often extremely difficult to breach the gain line. The Lions really fronted up and all the forwards can be proud of their efforts.
The Hurricanes, like the All Blacks, were very dangerous with ball in hand and their off loading was excellent. However, they gave away so many penalties, especially for offside, which really destroyed them and was often a huge let off for the Lions, especially in the first half.
There were many encouraging performances for the Lions, providing Gatland with a few more selection dilemmas ahead of the Second Test in the same stadium on Saturday. Certainly Best, Lawes, Henderson and Tupiric were outstanding and wouldn’t let the Lions down if selected on Saturday.
Marks out of 10
Nowell 7 Started at full back but moved to his preferred right wing position after 20 minutes when Henshaw departed. Goes looking for action and always lively with ball in hand and strong in defence. His confidence has definitely returned and has made a strong case for inclusion on the bench for the Second Test, as he is the sort of player who can make a difference with his attacking prowess and ‘x’ factor.
Seymour 8 Did everything asked of him and finished off two good moves to score two excellent tries. Made a good tackle in the lead up to the first try and did really well to track Laidlaw and score the try. Excellent delicate chip and catch midway through the second half and was in the right place to score the third try. He won’t feature in the test matches but he will be rightly satisfied with his evening’s work.
Joseph 7 Unfortunately he had very little opportunity with ball in hand, but gave his best. He was strong defensively and a put in a superb grubber kick for North, when he almost scored the Lions’ fourth try. Extremely unlikely to feature in the second test as he really has not shown what he can do, which he will understandably say has been due to a lack of opportunity.
Henshaw 6 Only played for under 20 minutes before becoming cruelly injured so had little opportunity to impress or make a mark on the match.
North 7 Moved to inside centre after less than 20 minutes which arguably put paid to him stating his case as a winger for the second test. However, he had a decent match, scored a try after good follow up work and saw quite a lot of the ball, albeit he had little opportunity to really stretch his legs. Unlikely to be in consideration for the second test.
Biggar 8 Another excellent match and played with confidence yet again, albeit very unlikely to come into the reckoning for the second test. Showed good variation in his play, once taking a quick tap penalty, distributed well and was strong in defence. His only obvious error was when he missed a long penalty kick for touch but he immediately made amends with a brilliant high kick which led to the Lions’ second try. He then threw an excellent long cut out pass for the Lions’ third try. Well in credit and can feel rightly proud of his efforts in the Lions’ jersey.
Laidlaw 6 Kicking very suspect and variable. The occasional very good box kick but often too long and always the danger of being charged down. Silly knock on early in match. However, he contributed significantly for the first try with a timely interception and a very good offload for Seymour to score. Overall though, he is too slow and offers little attacking threat, his decision making is often hesitant and his passing often delayed when service needs to be far crisper and sharper.
Marler 7 Another who had a good match, lasted the full 80 minutes again and was always involved, both from an attacking and defensive aspect.
Best 8 Good line out throwing with 100 % success rate and prominent around the pitch, making ground with ball in hand and strong defensively. Can be well satisfied with a strong captain’s performance and puts his hand up for inclusion in the second test squad, albeit he is coming from behind.
Cole 7 Another decent match, lasting the full 80 minutes and as last week, showed up prominently towards the end and made a crucial turnover late in the second half
Lawes 8 Another very good match in the line out and around the pitch. Withdrawn after 50 minutes to presumably save him for the second test, where he could well start. Offers strong physicality and aggression which is what the forwards really need in the second test.
Henderson 9 A barnstorming match and arguably a coming of age in the international arena. A very clever and intelligent player, who is somewhat underrated. Often made good ground, getting over the gainline and very prominent. Excellent off load for the second try and strong defensively. A little unlucky to be yellow carded with 15 minutes to go, which proved to be the turning point in the match
Haskell 7 Another who gave his all and offered a strong physical presence, both with ball in hand and defensively. He won’t make the test match squad but can feel well satisfied with his efforts and didn’t let anyone down.
Tupiric 8 A classic no 7 who has the crucial ability to be able to offload in contact, which he did on a few occasions and it always makes such a difference to the Lions’ attack. It keeps the play going, keeps the Lions on the front foot and invariably well over the gain line, which we saw the All Blacks do time and time again so successfully in the first test. For this reason alone, I think he merits very serious consideration for a place in the squad for the second test. Defensively he was very strong too.
Stander 7 Again strong in the carry and defensively but arguably not as prominent as he has been earlier in the tour and probably unlikely to be in serious consideration for the second test
Dacey – n/a
Dell – n/a
Francis – n/a
Hill – n/a
Kruis 6 – played for 20 minutes and whilst he featured in the line out he wasn’t really able to impose himself around the pitch. He seems a little off his game and maybe he is feeling the pressure. Will be nervously looking over his shoulder when the team is announced for the second test.
Russell – came on for Biggar as he had his HIA and immediately tried to showcase his talents by making a half break but then lost the ball in contact as he tried to force the play, before swiftly returning to the bench as Biggar returned. Not on long enough to warrant a mark
Halfpenny 6/7 – came on after 15 mins and did well with his positioning, kick chasing and a lovely pass for the Lions’ third try. However, he will be disappointed at dropping a relatively easy high ball under no real pressure towards the end of the match which was very uncharacteristic of him. His lack of pace following his recent injury is so disappointing after his phenomenal series in Australia four years ago and sadly it does look as though his best days are now behind him. Now, all he really offers is solidity, a strong defence and a good rugby brain, but that pace and attacking flair is sadly no longer there.