Lions finally deliver a complete performance with 34-6 win over Chiefs.
The dirt trackers deliver! Finally the midweek side give a huge boost to the squad with an excellent win over the chiefs and in doing so played some fine attacking rugby mixed in with bone crushing defence and a solid set piece.
From 1 to 15 the Lions turned in a brisk, intelligent, high-tempo performance against another of New Zealand’s highly-regarded Super franchises.
What was looking like a dead cert test whitewash based on the opening few performances is now looking like an entirely different prospect.
The written-off Lions are now slowly beginning to write a different story, are now beginning to get the attention of a rugby public and press that are all too dismissive of plucky tourists. The win based on the back of a 3 try, twelve minute spell during the second half featured some excellent sequences of play mixed with an intent to counter attack at every opportunity.
Jack Nowell who had a fine game stole a forwards try in the first half but in the second, was on the end of a sweeping move to finish a well worked team score with the ball going through several sets of hands before the Englishman dotted down.
Elliot Daly, Courtney Lawes and Jared Payne all played well. It would have been easy for players to shrug shoulders at their selection for the Chiefs – knowing it would mean that a test spot is unlikely – but that was certainly not the case. Those involved turned in the kind of performance that is a timely reminder to Gatland that there is depth in this squad and some able replacements should his test 23 suffer injury or loss of form.
Another whose performance today should catch the attention of Warren Gatland is CJ Stander. The Munster back row got through an amount of work again today and while a Test starting spot is unlikely he would certainly be a great weapon on the Lions bench.
Mid-week performances have not been of the standard required but in truth the Lions could and should have closed out the Blues and the Highlanders but game management and discipline were issues. Not so today.
Right from the off the Lions looked up for it, Joe Marler’s late hit on opposite number Nepo Laulala earned him ten minutes in the cooler but it laid down a marker, this team was not here to be bullied, would take an stand and had an edge.
This team were a unit, they had each others backs. Further evidence of this was when during Marler’s absence Jared Payne slotted in to add his weight to this scrum penalty.
Video Credit: Sky Sports.
Jack Nowell made a decisive impact in the 25th minute to make best use of Dan Biggar’s snappy little stepping break to pick up and dive over. His second try in the 59th minute was an absolute belter. Flanker Justin Tipuric began the move when he snaffled an over-thrown lineout in his own 22 and fired the ball quickly to the left where it was taken on vigorously, Daly injecting real gas.
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His infield pass was well-timed, Jared Payne and Robbie Henshaw linking well. There was still work to be done, and it was done with lock, Iain Henderson, sending a long ball to Nowell who stepped and weaved his way to the try-line.
The form of Dan Biggar was also welcome as the Welsh out half had a good all-round game despite avoiding what looked a certain yellow card for a swinging arm on no.8, Tom Sanders. French referee Garces instead awarding a penalty because the Chiefs player ducked.
Courtney Lawes illustrated the strength-in-depth the Lions have at lock, the Northampton player nicking the first Chiefs lineout, tap-tackling the dangerous wing, Toni Pulu. Lawes was everywhere and looks nailed on for some involvement in the Test series. His removal for a HIA will though be of some concern.
Before we get carried away, it should be noted that the Chiefs were missing five former All Blacks from their panel. Trailing 13-6 after the interval the home side looked to make an explosive start to the second half but the Lions defused any such notions.
In the 54th minute the Lions opted for a line out maul and their power and technique saw referee Jerome Garces having no hesitation in awarding a penalty try.
The floodgates had been opened, Nowell touching down for his wonder effort seven minutes later before Jared Payne rounded off a mesmerising run by full-back, Liam Williams.
At the final whistle, there was a significant huddle of the midweek team. They had done their bit. Now it is up to the Test team. Roll on the team announcement and roll on Saturday.
Rory Best’s comments after the game further emphasising that this is a united touring party, unlike the 2005 bunch, everyone on the squad knows they have a chance at affecting the Test series.
“There’s a good team spirit in the squad. For a tighthead prop to win a turnover in the final minute shows what it means to everyone.”
“I know from personal experience that if you slip this one by, you regret it.”