Lions 2017: Highlanders 23-22 British & Irish Lions
What's hot and what's not from the Highlanders v British & Irish Lions game
Marty Banks slotted a 74th-minute penalty to give the Highlanders a narrow win over the British & Irish Lions at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
Elliot Daly did have the opportunity to put the Lions back in front in the closing minutes but fell short with his long-range penalty attempt from seven metres inside his own half. Then Jonathan Joseph spilled the ball as the Lions launched one last attack from a lineout just outside the Highlanders’ 22.
The Lions outscored the Highlanders three tries to two, but errors at critical times again proved the difference – dropped balls, scrum penalties, mistimed tackles and the like. The tourists’ intensity didn’t match that of the performance against the Crusaders just a few days ago and the lack of impact from the back three will no doubt be a concern for the coaches, as will the fact the continual improvement we saw in the first three games appears to have stalled.
The Lions have now lost both their midweek matches, which means their game against the Maori All Blacks on Saturday takes on even more significance. We take a look and who and what stood out…
Which Lions caught the eye?
Dan Biggar – The Wales fly-half impressed on both sides of the ball, kicking well, setting up Jonathan Joseph’s first try with a well-timed pass and holding out Waisake Naholo as he pushed for the line in the second half. He admitted he was the third-choice No 10 before this game but is doing his upmost to challenge Owen Farrell and Johnny Sexton for a spot in the Test 23. The only concern is that he looked in discomfort as he went off.
Rhys Webb – Like his half-back partner, he limped off – but before then he was a real thorn in the Highlanders’ side. No doubt spurred on by Conor Murray’s performance at the weekend, he was keen to prove his worth. There was a brilliant dummy and surge in the first half that released Jack Nowell before the move broke down, and he again confused the Highlanders defence a few minutes later in their 22. He added pace and was looking for space around the breakdown, but it has to be said his box-kicks didn’t match those of Murray against the Crusaders.
Iain Henderson – Courtney Lawes started the game at a similar standard to that which he played last week but when he departed early after appearing to be knocked out trying to stop Waisake Naholo score, Henderson came to the fore. A willing carrier who made two runs in the build-up to Sam Warburton’s try, he was also at the forefront of the Lions’ effective counter-ruck and made some important tackles. Special mention also for Kyle Sinckler for a burst reminiscent of that which he made against Italy in the Six Nations.
Tries – The Lions were criticised before this game for scoring only two tries in three games. In Dunedin they managed three in one, Jonathan Joseph, Tommy Seymour and Sam Warburton all crossing. The last was the best, coming at the end of a long series of phases in the Highlanders’ 22 after the Lions had pressurised the hosts from a restart. They worked the ball left and right from the scrum and Warburton went over under the posts after picking up the ball from an Iain Henderson burst. The tourists also scrambled well to prevent the Highlanders scoring more tries, although the space the hosts found at times will be a concern for Andy Farrell & Co.
Wide boys – The Highlanders looked to get the ball into the wide channels quickly with long passes and also used grubber kicks towards the touchlines to find space to the edges or behind the Lions defensive line. With both tactics they were able to find that desired space and create holes through which to break, wingers Tevita Li and Waisake Naholo using their power and pace to put the Lions on edge. Naholo was a threat from the off, when he skinned Tommy Seymour on the touchline, so it was little surprise he went over for the first try, spinning through Lions’ tacklers to touch down near the posts.
Tour awareness – Wherever the Lions have gone on this trip to New Zealand so far people have been aware of their presence – but in Dunedin that awareness went up another level. Highlanders shirts, hats and scarves adorn people across the city, cafes proclaim ‘Come on ‘Landers’ and pubs encourage Lions fans to enter. The number of travelling supporters has steadily increased too; it’s not a ‘sea of red’ yet but they are easy to spot around town in their branded jackets – or grabbing selfies with their favourite players. It’s brilliant to see this tour engage people both in the stadiums and the cities as a whole.
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Discipline – Another midweek game, another penalty count Warren Gatland will be unhappy with. CJ Stander conceded two in just a few minutes for holding on and that made up half the penalty count in the first half (the Ireland No 8 didn’t make his usual impact with ball in hand, playing three games in a week not helping his cause). There were a few more avoidable penalties in the second half and they will most irk the coaching team.
First casualty – We all know there are going to be injuries on Lions tours and the wait for the first of the 2017 edition has been longer than usual. Stuart Hogg is the first player to be heading home, a facial fracture suffered when his cheek met Conor Murray’s elbow in the first half against the Crusaders ending his second tour. It’s a huge shame for the Scotland full-back who had been in such fine form this season but there are a myriad of players who have experience of playing at 15 in this Lions squad, hence why no one has been called up as a replacement. Best wishes to Hogg in his recovery.
The weather – Okay, it didn’t affect the game given that the stadium is covered – and what a great stadium it is – but match day in Dunedin lived up to that saying ‘four seasons in one day’. Heavy rainfall in the morning, blue skies at lunchtime, more heavy rain in the afternoon and even a spot of snow on the other side of the peninsula, and then blue skies again. So a tip should you ever travel to Dunedin: be prepared for any weather.
Highlanders: Richard Buckman; Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa (Marty Banks 12-17), Teihorangi Walden, Tevita Li (Patrick Osborne 68); Lima Sopoaga (Banks 55), Kayne Hammington (Josh Renton 75); Daniel Lienert-Brown (Aki Seiuli 60), Liam Coltman (Greg Pleasants-Tate 68), Siate Tokolahi (Siosiua Halanukonuka 68), Alex Ainley (Josh Dickson 55), Jackson Hemopo, Gareth Evans, Dillon Hunt (James Lentjes 60), Luke Whitelock (capt).
Tries: Naholo, Coltman. Cons: Sopoaga, Banks. Pens: Sopoaga 2, Banks.
Lions: Jared Payne (Elliot Daly 63); Jack Nowell, Jonathan Joseph, Robbie Henshaw, Tommy Seymour; Dan Biggar (Owen Farrell 68), Rhys Webb (Greig Laidlaw 48); Joe Marler (Jack McGrath 55), Rory Best (Ken Owens 25-29, 49), Kyle Sinckler (Dan Cole 49), Courtney Lawes (Alun Wyn Jones 27), Iain Henderson, James Haskell, Sam Warburton (capt, Justin Tipuric 67), CJ Stander.
Tries: Joseph, Seymour, Warburton. Cons: Biggar 2. Pen: Biggar.