Rory Best leads the British and Irish Lions to their first midweek win, a 34-6 victory over the Chiefs.
By Phil Rice
The Waikato Chiefs had ten first choice players missing and the Lions second string team took full advantage of their disorganisation in this week’s midweek game.
As we know there are no easy matches in New Zealand and it took an excellent performance from the Lions to win this game so comprehensively.
For the first time on this tour we saw the Lions throw the ball about, and Liam Williams at full back and Jack Nowell on the wing revelled in the open spaces that were created.
Elliot Daly has looked a class act on this tour and it will be a difficult decision to choose between the Wasps player and Anthony Watson for that right wing berth on this weekend’s Test team.
Rory Best led by example and had his best game so far on tour. Iain Henderson is also beginning to find his mojo after a quiet spell.
CJ Stander seems unlikely to get into the Test XV and possibly not even the squad, but has maintained his high standard of performance throughout the tour so far.
There are likely to be injuries during the attritional Test series and it would be a surprise if the South African-born Munsterman doesn’t play some part.
Exeter winger Nowell scored twice, Jared Payne scored his first try for the Lions and the referee awarded a penalty, as the Chiefs wilted under the immense Lions pressure. Dan
Biggar has yet to miss a kick on this tour.
The first Test team will be announced Wednesday evening and these midweek players know they are unlikely to be included, but they know there are three Tests and they played like they wanted to be involved in at least one of them.
Warren Gatland said after the game: “This was a very important result for us.”
When asked if the Test team was already selected for Saturday, he said: “Not at all, I explained to both wingers before this game they have everything to play for.”
That suggests that the choice of wingers has caused more debate for the coaches than any other positions.
George North with his experience and Anthony Watson, who has looked dangerous with limited opportunity so far, are probably just favourites for the Test, but Elliot Daly and Jack Nowell did themselves no harm in this match.
The excitement is really building in New Zealand as the whole country is gripped by the prospect of a very competitive series. The Lions have gradually built momentum as the tour has progressed.
There is a belief among the Lion’s supporters that the supremacy New Zealand have exerted over world rugby during the past five or six years is about to be challenged. There is certainly great anticipation for Saturday’s match.
Lions: L Williams (Wales); J Nowell (England), J Payne (Ireland), R Henshaw (Ireland), E Daly (England); D Biggar (Wales), G Laidlaw (Scotland); J Marler (England), R Best (Ireland), D Cole (England), I Henderson (Ireland), C Lawes (England), J Haskell (England), J Tipuric (Wales), C Stander (Ireland).
Replacements: K Dacey (Wales), A Dell (Scotland), T Francis (Wales), C Hill (Wales), AW Jones (Wales), G Davies (Wales), F Russell (Scotland), T Seymour (Scotland).
Chiefs: S Stevenson; T Pulu, T Nanai-Williams, J Fa’auli, S Alaimalo; S Donald (capt), F Christie, S Fisiihoi, L Polwart, N Laulala, D Bird, M Allardice, M Brown, L Boshier, T Sanders.
Replacements: H Elliot, A Ross, A Moli, L Messam, M Karpik, J Taumateine, L Laulala, C Tiatia.