Crusaders 3-12 British and Irish Lions: Five things we learned
By PA Sport
Last Updated: 11/06/17 7:24am
The British and Irish Lions got back to winning ways with a punishing 12-3 win over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Three penalties from Owen Farrell gave the visitors a 9-3 lead at the break, with Richie Mo'unga offering the Crusaders' sole response from the tee.
Both sides had chances to score tries in the second half, with the Lions squandering two clear opportunities, but neither could cross the whitewash as a fourth Farrell penalty gave Warren Gatland's side a much-needed win in Christchurch.
We examine five key lessons from the Lions' latest challenge in New Zealand...
Gatland shifts pressure
Lions boss Gatland hit out at what he termed a "targeted campaign" against him in the wake of this hugely morale-boosting victory over Crusaders.
But Gatland also revealed that siege mentality "sometimes brings out the best in me as a competitor". That revelation was fully designed as a sneaky way of saying to the detractors - thanks for the ammunition that helped us pull off a performance worthy of sinking the Crusaders.
Gatland will hope that shot across the boughs will prove enough for All Blacks coach Steve Hansen to add to his already comprehensive critique of the Lions' New Zealand plans.
Farrell crucial to Lions' chances
And so the "ice cold veins" belong to Owen Farrell and not Richie Mo'unga after all. There should never have been any doubt.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson suggested his fast-improving fly-half Mo'unga could get one up on Farrell at the AMI Stadium, backing the 23-year-old to show his class as a future All Black.
Robertson hailed Mo'unga for boasting those "ice cold veins" but in truth it is, and always has been, Farrell who possesses that absolute authority of focus.
Farrell even helped settle Johnny Sexton's nerves and bring the Ireland fly-half back up to speed after a patchy opening to the tour.
Sexton and Farrell combined well at 10 and 12 and that is now a genuine option for boss Gatland moving forward, despite the Lions coach previously admitting he viewed England's premier playmaker as a fly-half.
Lions must disregard records
The Crusaders threw grass in the air in ending their specially prepared haka, mixing metaphor with reality on the theme of defending home turf.
No one else had stepped on to that grass and come back off as a winner all season. Not even the Highlanders last week, who were drawing 22-22 even three minutes into added time. Mitch Hunt's overtime drop-goal stole that 14th consecutive win last weekend as Scott Robertson's men added to their AMI Stadium and Super Rugby legend.
Here, though, the Lions shredded that air of invincibility in a statement performance and win that speaks volumes about the tourists' character.
The Lions will need all that disregard for record-keeping and history books if they are to gain any traction in the Test series against the All Blacks, however, given they have only ever won one series in New Zealand - back in 1971.
But as building up a head of steam to wreck reputations goes, this was a start.
Alun Wyn Jones is back
Even if Sam Warburton starts the Tests and captains the Lions from the back-row, Alun Wyn Jones will offer another level of leadership at lock.
The fierce competitor battled back to top form against the Crusaders, forging a fine duo with George Kruis.
That looks very much like Gatland's Test lock pairing, with the energy and acumen of Maro Itoje primed as an option off the bench.
Saracens spine for 2017 Lions
From the lineout link-up of Jamie George and George Kruis, to Mako Vunipola offering an out-ball between backs and forwards, and on to the indomitable Owen Farrell as team pivot, these Lions are quietly painted in the black of Saracens.
It is not just that a core of the likely Test line-up hails from the double European champions, it is that the Lions have also produced a similar game plan to the English giants.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that on Saturday's evidence.