Hurricanes 31-31 British and Irish Lions: Tourists surrender 16-point lead in Wellington thriller
By Jack Wilkinson
Last Updated: 27/06/17 6:27pm
The British and Irish Lions surrendered a 16-point half-time lead as the Hurricanes held them to a pulsating 31-31 draw in their final midweek game in New Zealand.
The free-flowing tourists led 31-17 with 12 minutes remaining, but the Super Rugby champions capitalised on Iain Henderson's contentious sin bin with two late tries from Wes Goosen and Vaea Fifita to stun Warren Gatland's men.
Presented with the final opportunity to secure a Test spot, the Lions produced a scintillating display as Tommy Seymour crossed the whitewash twice and George North recovered from recent poor form with his first try of the tour.
After the hosts' comeback, Dan Biggar had the chance to kick for glory but his last-gasp drop goal fell short as the Lions had to settle for a draw in their final outing before Saturday's second Test with the All Blacks in Wellington.
Biggar opened the scoring from the tee in the 10th minute and extended the Lions' lead to 10 points seven minutes later, slotting the conversion after Greig Laidlaw's interception and offload released compatriot Seymour.
The Wales fly-half punished the Hurricanes' ill-discipline to open up a 13-point lead for the tourists, before Callum Gibbins bundled his way over the whitewash on 27 minutes to get the Super Rugby champions on the scoresheet, Jordie Barrett adding the conversion.
Biggar responded immediately, slotting a penalty before his high kick, and a Leigh Halfpenny chase, caused havoc in the Hurricanes defence, allowing Henderson to release North under the posts to secure a 23-7 half-time lead for the Lions.
The Hurricanes hauled themselves back into contention within a minute of the restart as Julian Savea gathered a lovely inside pass, breaking clear and releasing Ngani Laumape, who smashed through Biggar to score.
Barrett added the conversion and a penalty as the Hurricanes cut the deficit to six, but Biggar restored the Lions' two-score lead clear with a penalty of his own after scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle on Jack Nowell.
The Lions took full advantage of the extra man as Seymour crossed in the corner for his third try of the tour, but, after North spurned the chance of a second try but stepping into touch, a yellow card to Henderson after he tip-tackled Barrett swung the game in the Hurricanes' favour.
A looping pass out wide released Goosen in the 68th minute and the hosts' bombardment soon told as Fifita bulldozed his way through four minutes later, Barrett slotting both conversions to level the contest.
A spirited defensive set kept the Hurricanes at bay, ensuring parity for the Lions before Biggar's attempt to win the game at the death fell a yard shy.
Man of the match
Moment of the match
In the 17th minute, the Lions' quick line speed paid dividends as Seymour smashed fly-half Otere Black and Laidlaw intercepted and scampered clear.
One criticism levelled at the Lions in New Zealand is their inability to support runners and convert opportunities into tries, but Seymour made up more than 20 yards on his international captain, who was being reeled in by Hurricanes defenders.
Once tackled, Laidlaw released the perfect offload into Seymour's path as the winger scored the first of two tries which moved him top of the Lions try-scoring charts.
After several prompts from the TMO, referee Romain Poite's decision to brandish a yellow card to Henderson for lifting Barrett over the horizontal proved decisive.
The Hurricanes ruthlessly exploited their man advantage and were unfortunate not to take the lead, such was their dominance at the end of the game.
Having seen Liam Williams and Elliot Daly force their way into the reckoning for the first Test against the All Blacks, the midweek Lions gave everything they had to follow suit, expressing themselves from the first whistle at the Westpac Stadium.
An expansive game drew penalty after penalty from a Hurricanes outfit who, for the majority of the first half, found themselves bullied by the boot of Biggar and on the back foot.
The Lions' ability to keep the Hurricanes' star-studded back three of Savea, Barrett and Nehe Milner-Skudder quiet before the game-altering sin bins will have pleased defensive coach Andy Farrell.
The chants of "off, off, off" from the home fans in the wake of Henderson's tackle on Barrett was disappointing given the lack of All Blacks contrition over the spear tackle by Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu that ended Brian O'Driscoll's tour in 2005.
The Ulster lock was unfortunate to see yellow while clearing out a ruck, with Jonathan Joseph's intervention contributing to the Hurricanes full-back landing on his shoulder.
Tweet of the game
Surely the wrong second row off no?! Lawes has been good but Henderson must be in the Test 23 mix...— Brian O'Driscoll (@BrianODriscoll) June 27, 2017
"It's very frustrating," said Lions captain Rory Best. "They're the Super Rugby champions and a very good side. We'll look back at mistakes that let them back into it and we'll be very frustrated."Having said that, to build two leads like we did, at this stage of the season and tour, we've got to look at the positives as well. You cannot fault the effort, we just needed a bit of composure and to be a bit more clinical at times."
"I just enjoyed playing with the guys on this team. It's a shame not to get the win but we put in a great performance," said Courtney Lawes, whose 55th-minute withdrawal suggests he could feature against the All Blacks.
"There is so much competition in the second row We knew we [Lawes and Iain Henderson] had to turn up tonight to have a shot at the weekend."