Late penalty edges out Lions after an exhilarating match of attacking rugby
by Phil Rice
Having got the show back on the road with an excellent win over the Crusaders last Saturday, the Lions were looking to maintain the momentum against the Highlanders in their midweek match.
After a compelling game of high intensity rugby the Lions just came up short when Marty Banks kicked a 74th minute penalty to deny them victory with a final result of 23-22.
Irish involvement came from Robbie Henshaw, Jared Payne, Rory Best, the outstanding CJ Stander and substitute Jack McGrath. The Lions started well, but it was the Super Rugby side who were the first to score with Lima Sopoaga kicking a penalty with five minutes gone.
Things could have got even better for the Highlanders with a three-on-two overlap on the left wing but Malakai Fekitoa carried when he should have passed and was swallowed up by excellent defensive work from Robbie Henshaw. The Lions responded 10 minutes later with a penalty from Dan Biggar to level matters.
In the 26 minute Waisake Naholo powered his way through a couple of tackles to score the game’s first try. Sopoaga’s conversion made it 10-3, but the Lions were quick to hit back through Jonathan Joseph who finished well in the left corner. The conversion from Biggar made it 10-10 at the break.
The Lions continued were they left off when the game restarted.
Glasgow Warriors’ Tommy Seymour fielded a crossfield kick to score his side’s second try, Biggar missed the conversion. Sopoaga reduced the margin to two with a penalty but the Lions were soon over for their third try through captain Sam Warburton, with Biggar’s conversion making it 13-22.
The Lions looked to be in control with 25 minutes to play but the Highlanders were not prepared to lie down. Liam Coltman went over for their second try with Banks’ conversion making it a two-point game.
Owen Farrell, on for Biggar, had an opportunity to extend the Lions’ lead but he pulled his kick. Then, with six minutes to play, Banks kicked a pressure penalty from the right hand side to give the Highlanders the lead. The Lions had one more opportunity to claim a win, Elliot Daly taking a shot at goal from inside his own half, but his effort fell inches short.
The Lions face the Maori All Blacks this Saturday, with just two games to go before the first Test against the All Blacks.
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While it might not have the All Blacks quaking in their boots, the Lions’ win over the Crusaders will certainly have made New Zealanders take notice.