While it might not have the All Blacks quaking in their boots, the British and Irish Lions’ 12-3 victory over the Crusaders at the AMI Stadium in Christchurch will certainly have made plenty of New Zealanders sit out and take notice. These Lions are no pussycats.
The home support, one sensed, had come to see the in-form Super Rugby side, with nine All Blacks in their squad, firmly put the Lions in their place, and in doing so deliver a further blow to the tourists’ confidence ahead of the Test series.
But not so. Instead, we saw a Lions side, perhaps galvanised by the criticism received after their defeat to the Blues, produce a gutsy display firmly in keeping with the jersey’s glorious past.
Time and time again those in red put their bodies on the line. Defending their own tryline on occasions as if the Test series depended upon it. Through adversity, has this squad come together?
“We needed that; that was the most important thing, the result,” said Lions head coach Warren Gatland.
“I thought our defence was outstanding, line-out was excellent, set-piece pretty good. We are creating opportunities we just need to finish off those chances.
“It’s been a tough week, it’s been a really tough week; there’s been a lot of criticism.
“People have written the tour off already after two games. And that’s been challenging. It’s been challenging to all of us.
“We’ve had to stay strong within the group, keep the faith and remember that the goal is the Test matches, and keep improving for that.
“So I hope we didn’t disappoint too many people tonight with the result.”
A much improved performance saw Owen Farrell kick all of the Lions’ points, with the Crusaders’ only score coming from a Richie Mo’unga penalty.
No mean feat by the Lions to keep tryless a Crusaders side who’ve played 14 and won 14 so far this season, and who are Super Rugby’s second-highest try scorers.
The Lions defence, in particular, was outstanding, earning nine turnovers compared to four from the Crusaders.
One concern, however, and something they will need to address in their three remaining warm up matches before the 1st Test is their lack of tries – just two in their opening three games.
And Saturday’s win came a price with full back Stuart Hogg and centre Jonathan Davies both forced off with head injuries, while Dan Biggar missed out following a head injury against the Blues.
The injury to Davies in the 28th minute saw Jonathan Seton introduced, with the Ireland man going to fly half and Farrell to inside centre. Could we see that combination again in the Test matches?
Conor Murray, meanwhile, outlined his credentials to take the number nine jersey for the 1st Test with an excellent display, despite a couple of handling errors.
Farrell said afterwards: “I thought we were aggressive. We really got off the line [defensively], no matter where we were on the field.
“I thought we were really connected. We got up off the floor and pushed… and that gave us some great front-foot ball.”
The Lions return to action against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday (08:35 BST) – their fourth of six warm-up matches before the first of three Tests against the All Blacks on 24 June.
Lions: S Hogg; G North, J Davies; B Te’o, L Williams; O Farrell; C Murray; M Vunipola, J George, T Furlong; AW Jones (capt), G Kruis; P O’Mahony, S O’Brien, T Faletau.
Replacements: K Owens, J McGrath, D Cole, M Itoje, CJ Stander, R Webb, J Sexton, A Watson.
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Warren Gatland called the British and Lions 22-16 defeat to the Blues “great preparation” as the Lions went down to a superb late Ihaia West try.