Blues 22-16 British and Irish Lions: Tourists suffer morale-sapping defeat in Auckland
Last Updated: 07/06/17 4:42pm
Blues fly-half Ihaia West scored a brilliant 75th minute try to consign the British and Irish Lions to a 22-16 loss in the second game of their 10-match tour of New Zealand at Eden Park on Wednesday.
Replacement West scooted over after superb offloads from Steven Luatua and Sonny Bill Williams just as the visitors looked to have seized the momentum with a 16-15 lead over the Super Rugby side.
Winger Rieko Ioane and centre Williams scored first-half tries while starting fly-half Stephen Perofeta added a conversion with West slotting a penalty and then converting his own try for the home side.
Number eight CJ Stander scored a try, with full-back Leigh Halfpenny slotting the conversion and three penalties for the Lions.
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It was a much better performance from the Lions after their uninspiring win against the semi-professional New Zealand Baa-baas last Saturday, but they were unable to handle the broken-play magic from the Blues.
The Lions got off to a solid start with sustained pressure and phases but the Blues defence held firm and the Lions came away with nothing after conceding a penalty.
However it was the Blues who struck first as the winger Rieko Ioane went over after a brilliant skip pass from No 9 Augustine Pulu that created space for Ioane to show his pace and he went over untouched.
Perofeta could not make the conversion but did make a try-saving tackle on Jared Payne moments later to deny the Lions.
The visitors continued to work through the phases and surprised and impressed the Blues fans by turning down a shot at goal and opting for the lineout - the Blues initially repelled the driving lineout but conceded another penalty and after Itoje set-up the Lions again, Stander crashed over. Halfpenny converted to give the Lions a 6-5 lead.
Halfpenny extended that lead to 10-5 but the Blues had the final say of the half with their second try. Perofeta's penalty attempt on the hooter hit the post and when Nowell couldn't gather it, Williams was quickest to the ball and dotted down under the posts. Perofeta did not miss this one and the Blues went into the break 12-10 up.
The Blues had a brilliant start to the second half as only a cover tackle from Nowell put Ioane's foot into touch, but the Blues were full of confidence and had the better of the opening quarter with replacement fly-half Ihaia West nailing a penalty to extend the lead to 15-10 in the 53rd minute.
The Lions went down to 14 men after Liam Williams was sin-binned for taking out Matt Duffie in the air for the second time, but they rallied well and Halfpenny knocked over his second penalty to close the gap to two points.
The visitors turned to their set piece and started to squeeze the life out of the Blues with the replacement front-row of Marler, Best and Sinckler winning a penalty at the scrum which Halfpenny converted for a 16-15 lead.
The Blues hit back with an absolutely sensational try set up by Steven Luatua. The Blues No 8 popped the ball out of the tackle to Williams who got it to West who ran a brilliant line to score under the posts. West converted his try and the Lions were trailing 16-22 with five minutes remaining.
The Lions had one more tilt at the Blues line after they won a penalty with second remaining. Sexton sent them to the corner but their lineout - which had fired for 79 minutes - let them down when they needed it most and the Blues held on for the win.
Man of the match
The Lions may have had the upper hand at the set piece and in the tight but they could not handle the open field brilliance of the Blues that was highlighted by West's remarkable try.
The Lions set-piece went very well - Jack McGrath gave Charlie Faumuina a tough time at the scrum and they really piled on the pressure on the Blues line-out.
The ruck and breakdown also went well for the visitors with Justin Tipuric exceptional in this area. Rhys Webb was also impressive and his sharpness created problems for the Blues inside which ultimately created space out wide.
Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje and CJ Stander also stuck up their hands for test selection.
A mention must go to the special haka that the Blues performed before the game to pay homage to the late Jonah Lomu and Kurtis Haiu. Passionate stuff that certainly added to the occasion.
There were far too many unforced penalties given away that put the Lions under pressure. Their kicking game also needs a bit of work as they did not put the Blues back three under enough pressure with the high ball to play for field position.
The Lions also could not handle the broken attacking game that the Blues had in spades, and will need to come up with a defensive play to counter this going forward.
Tweet of the game
It does not get any easy for the Lions as they take on Canterbury who have won all 14 of the Super Rugby games this campaign and are sitting pretty at the top of the New Zealand conference.