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 at Eden Park.
Leigh Halfpenny’s third penalty had edged the Lions back into a one-point lead with 10 minutes to play, Sonny Bill Williams’ break was finished off by West to snatch victory from the Lions’ grasp.
Despite the result, Lions head coach Gatland believed the 80 minutes was hugely beneficial as the side builds to the first Test against the All Blacks on 24 June.
“It’s a big improvement from Saturday – it was a close game. The number of penalties hurt us, cost us momentum in the game, but there’s lots of positives,’ Gatland told Sky Sports.
“Our set-piece was good but need to control the number of penalties we give away in the game. That’s an area we will address over the next few days.
“We have to make sure we control things that are in our control. We must half our penalty count.
“I don’t think there will be much of a difference between Super Rugby sides and the All Blacks.
“It’s going to give us great preparation playing at this level and learning from these hard competitive games.
“Winning games by 60 or 70 points isn’t good preparation – this is good preparation.”
The Lions were dealt an early blow when winger Rieko Ioane opened the scoring, but the tourists’ bright start was rewarded when CJ Stander touched down with Halfpenny converting.
The Wales full back then added a penalty to edge the Lions in front.
The Blues, generally regarded as the weakest of New Zealand’s Super Rugby sides, hit back through a Sonny Bill Williams converted try to lead 12-10 at the break.
Harsh on ourselves
Lions captain Ken Owens, said: “You are coming on a Lions tour, and you want to win every game. Unfortunately, we haven’t done that, and we are going to have be harsh on ourselves, pick up where we lost the game and really analyse it.
“We have got to lick our wounds – we have only got two or three days before our next game in Christchurch – pick ourselves up and get our tour back on track.”
The Lions had opened their Tour with an unconvincing 13-7 victory over the Provincial Barbarians.
The Lions now face Crusaders on Saturday (10 June, kick-off 08:35 BST).
Lions: Leigh Halfpenny; Jack Nowell, Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw, Elliot Daly; Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb; Jack McGrath, Ken Owens (captain), Dan Cole, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, James Haskell, Justin Tipuric, CJ Stander.
Replacements: Rory Best, Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler, Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony, Grieg Laidlaw, Johnny Sexton, Liam Williams.
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