The British & Irish Lions produced a clinical forward and kicking display to beat the New Zealand Maori 32-10 in Rotorua on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The fixture against the Maori is widely recognised as the unofficial fourth Test on a Lions' tour to New Zealand. The pressure was on the tourists to match the intensity as well as the physicality of the home team, and to take some momentum into the three-Test series against the All Blacks.
The response was emphatic. The Lions forwards were dominant, especially at the breakdowns and collisions. Loose forwards Peter O'Mahony, Sean O'Brien and Taulupe Faletau were outstanding.
The rush defence of the Lions kept the dangerous individuals of the Maori on the back foot. The accurate tactical kicking of Conor Murray and Jonathan Sexton was complemented by an excellent kick chase.
The Maori felt the pressure for most of the game. They were forced to concede penalties, and to make handling errors on what was a wet night in Rotorua.
The captaincy of O'Mahony was also a key feature of the Lions' performance. The Ireland flanker instructed Leigh Halfpenny to kick for goal whenever the Lions received a penalty within range of the posts in the first stanza. By half-time, the Lions were out to a 12-10 lead.
The Lions continued to grow in confidence as the game progressed. The Maori, on the other hand, continued to make mistakes.
Scrumhalf Tawera-Kerr Barlow shoulder-charged Halfpenny in the 47th minute, and was shown a yellow card. The Lions proceeded to score 14 points in Kerr-Barlow's absence.
Their first try was the product of a dominant scrum, which resulted in a penalty try. The second was also scored from close range. Maro Itoje powered his way over the line.
Halfpenny extended his personal tally to 20 points – and maintained his 100% kicking record on tour – when he kicked his sixth penalty goal in the 70th minute. The tourists maintained their defensive shape in the final quarter to deny the Maori a consolation try.
The Lions will take heart from their overall performance against the Maori. At the same time, they should recognise the fact that the Maori are a composite side that didn't enjoy a great deal of time to prepare for Saturday's clash.
The All Blacks, with some of the best individuals and combinations in world rugby, will demand more of the Lions in terms of physicality and intensity in the first Test next week.
New Zealand Maori – Try: Liam Messam. Conversion: Damian McKenzie. Penalty: McKenzie.
British & Irish Lions – Tries: Penalty try, Maro Itoje. Conversions: Automatic conversion, Leigh Halfpenny. Penalties: Halfpenny (6).
New Zealand Maori – 15 James Lowe, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Ben May, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Hikawera Elliot, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Rob Thompson.
British & Irish Lions – 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 George North, 10 Johnny Sexton, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony (c), 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Iain Henderson, 20 Sam Warburton, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Dan Biggar, 23 Elliot Daly.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images