Lions squander 14-point lead to draw with Hurricanes

The Lions blew a 14-point lead to draw with Hurricanes 31 points apiece.

With the war of words showing no signs of abating and cries of foul play emanating from the Lions camp, focus shifted today to Wellington and the Hurricanes. What unfolded was entertaining but ultimately infuriating as the Lions threw away a 14-point lead to the home side.Gatland’s embattled side led 23-7 a the break after a fine first half and again 31-17 on the hour mark.

The turning point came on 65 minutes when the superb Ian Henderson was yellow carded for a ruck clear out. The manner in which Romain Poite came to his decision was frustrating to say the least. On first viewing Poite seemed happy that the offence warranted no more than a penalty, however following some ‘encouragement’ from the video referee to have another look, the yellow card was produced and the Ulster man was in the bin.

What followed was chaos as the Lions seemed to lose all shape and defensive cohesion and in the process coughing up two tries and the lead.Callum Gibbins, Ngani Laumape, Wes Goosen and Vaea Fifita all crossed for the hosts, with Tommy Seymour grabbing a brace and George North also touching down for the Lions.

It was the last chance saloon for the midweek players to stake a claim for the final two tests and the constant sniping in the press between the head coaches could only have proved a distraction. Gatland’s portrayal as clown would have done little to improve his form.

The bitterness between the two New Zealanders centring on the targeting of Conor Murray’s standing foot. Perhaps the All Blacks got their hands on the Glasgow Warriors playbook.

Northampton’s Courtney Lawes certainly bolstered his test chances with a fine performance. His withdrawal on 60 minutes might just be a sign that Gatland is holding the Englishman in reserve for the Weekend. However it was Ulsterman Ian Henderson that was the standout performer. His yellow card apart, the second row was immense in the carry and in the loose and certainly put his hand up as a possible for the weekend.

In what has been an unwanted habit for the midweek Lions side, they threw away another game from a winning position. Having led against the Blues and Highlanders they lost both games and surrendered a two-try lead to draw this morning.

Alun Wyn Jones and Kruis started the 30-15 first Test loss in Auckland on Saturday, where the Lions were dominated in the tight five and with Gatland having already hinted at personnel changes, we can expect some big calls tomorrow evening.

From the off today the Lions looked to have upped the intensity and line speed, Greig Laidlaw racing for an intercept before popping up to onrushing fellow Scot Tommy Seymour who cantered under the posts for a 7-pointer.

Robbie Henshaw’s night was shortly over as he was forced from the field with a shoulder injury. The reshuffle meant Halfpenny to 15 and North to 12.

Biggar edged the Lions further ahead with another penalty before the Hurricanes finally made a dent in the Lions defence. Flanker Gibbins barging over from close range after a concerted period of pressure. Black kicked the conversion to cut the deficit to just 6 points.

Bigger added his third penalty of the evening after Laidlaw was blocked by Ben May. Minutes later, it would get even better as the Lions got their second try of the evening. Biggar launched a high ball deep into Hurricanes territory for Halfpenny to contest.

The replacement full back won the aerial battle, flicking the ball backwards to the onrushing Ian Henderson who popped a subtle ball to George North who had a clear run to the line. Under the posts and another 7 points on the board. At 23-7, the Lions were in total control.

The Hurricanes responded after the break when a Savea line break put Laumape into space for the hosts’ second try of the evening.

A HIA ensued as Biggar bravely tried to halt Laumape in his try scoring effort. Finn Russell was sprung from the bench as a temporary replacement. With the assessment passed, Biggar showed now ill effects as he returned to slot his fourth penalty of the evening when Hurricanes scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi was sin-binned for a high tackle.

Tommy Seymour bagged his second of the night after some good yards by the pack in close quarters created an acre of space out wide. The execution was spot on as Nowell and Halfpenny all combined to send the Scot over in the corner.

65 minutes on the clock and 31-17 ahead, the game should have been over. It most certainly would have been put do bed had George  North not put a foot in touch when dotting down in the corner.

Henderson’s yellow signalled disorganisation and a lack of defensive structure for the Lions as Wes Goosen and Fifita with Barrett adding both conversions to snatch a draw.

A lesson in persistence from the Hurricanes, another edition of poor game management from the Lions.

 

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