The British & Irish Lions produced an outstanding defensive effort to beat the Crusaders 12-3 in Christchurch on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The Crusaders came into this match having won all 14 of their Super Rugby fixtures so far this season and averaging 5.3 tries per game.
You would have got long odds on the hosts failing to score a single try against the touring Lions, yet that is what happened as they were kept tryless for the first time in 38 matches.
While no tries were scored, this was a thrilling encounter played with the intensity of a Test match.
Under coach Warren Gatland, the Lions produced a tactical masterclass to show exactly how a top New Zealand team can be beaten.
They didn't fall into the trap of taking the Crusaders on at their own expansive game, playing low-risk rugby with ball in hand. They made good use of big ball-carriers like Taulupe Faletau, and their backline kept its shape even after it lost Stuart Hogg and Jonathan Davies to injury, with Johnny Sexton coming on at 10 and Owen Farrell shifting to 12.
On defence, they were superb, with their linespeed forcing the Crusaders into making uncharacteristic mistakes. When the hosts did manage to get the ball wide, there was little space for them to work in and defenders ready to bundle them into touch.
The tourists also kicked well out of hand, none more so than Conor Murray, who produced an excellent all-round performance at scrumhalf. The Lions kept their opponents pinned in their half – they enjoyed 62% of the territory – and troubled them with the high ball.
The Crusaders were heavily penalised at scrum time by French referee Mathieu Raynal, and the hosts also lost three of their own lineouts in the first half.
While the Lions weren't able to score a try despite having 57% of possession, four penalties from Farrell (three in the first half) were enough to secure a desperately needed win that has re-ignited their tour.
After that loss to the Blues and an unconvincing win against the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians, the Lions Test team is starting to take shape.
The Lions will now head to Dunedin to play the Highlanders on Tuesday, before taking on the New Zealand Maori in Rotorua on Saturday.
Crusaders – Penalty: Richie Mo'unga.
British & Irish Lions – Penalties: Owen Farrell (4).
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Tim Bateman.
British & Irish Lions – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 George North, 13 Jonathan Davies, 12 Ben Te'o, 11 Liam Williams, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Conor Murray, 8 Taulupe Faletau, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Peter O'Mahony, 5 George Kruis, 4 Alun Wyn Jones (c), 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Subs: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Maro Itoje, 20 CJ Stander, 21 Rhys Webb, 22 Johnny Sexton, 23 Anthony Watson.
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images