British & Irish Lions 32-10 Maori All Blacks
The Lions have shown that their “A” team, playing their “A” game, are well capable of testing, if not necessarily besting, the All Blacks when the much-anticipated series gets underway next week, with a convincing win over the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua.
The Maori began their night with an error, fullback James Lowe kicking out on the full to allow the Lions to string together 15 phases. The defence held but conceded a penalty that fullback Leigh Halfpenny nailed for the early lead. A second penalty soon followed. Maori winger Reiko Ioane spilled a box kick which was then played at by an offside player. Halfpenny maintained his 100% record for the tour, 6-0 inside ten minutes.
The Maori finally got their hands on the ball courtesy of Lions wing George North making a hash of a probably unexpected Nehe Milner-Skudder grubber, and Maori No. 8 Liam Messam winning the race to the ball in the in-goal. Damian McKenzie, playing 5/8 rather than his customary fullback, added the extras and very much against the run of play the Maori led 7-6.
The Lions regained the lead as the 20 minute mark ticked over, Halfpenny successful from close range after the Maori, having again defended multiple phases, again infringed. Akita Ioane then won a penalty by holding up Maro Itoje who gave referee Jaco Peyper a mouthful when he called advantage Maori and was pinged for dissent. McKenzie put the Maori back in front 10-9.
A questionable breakdown penalty gave the Lions possession 15m from the Maori line, and another penalty that Halfpenny could’ve kicked in his sleep. Referee Peyper took the opportunity to warn Maori captain Ash Dixon that they were on thin ice yellow card-wise. With half time just around the corner the Lions led just 12-10 despite having in excess of 70% possession and territory.
A rare poor kick from Lions halfback Conor Murray resulted in the Maori counter-attacking and winning a penalty that got them inside the Lions 22 as the halftime siren sounded. Eleven phases later the Lions won a relieving penalty to end the half.
Half time: Lions 12-10 Maori
The Lions were first on the board through yet another Halfpenny penalty from yet another Maori breakdown infringement. Referee Peyper issued Dixon with his second, and presumably final, final warning that cards would be forthcoming if discipline didn’t improve.
With the Lions hot on attack Maori halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow went high and no-arms on Halfpenny and was lucky to get away with just a yellow card. From the resulting penalty the Lions drove to but not quite over the line to win a 5m scrum. Back-to-back scrum penalties saw the Lions awarded a penalty try to put them in command of the match at 22-10 with just under half an hour remaining.
A bizarre McKenzie chip on his own 22 with a man in the bin and another on the ground injured saw Reiko Ioane driven back over his line to set up another Lions 5m scrum, Maro Itoje scoring after the ball went initially wide then back into the heavy traffic. Halfpenny was again on target for 29-10 with 25 minutes to play, Kerr-Barlow’s sinbinning having now cost the Maori 14 points and any hope of victory.
The Lions now set up camp in the Maori 22, forcing their hosts to make an unsustainable number of tackles and forcing multiple scrums as the Maori coughed up what little possession they were able to glean. That the score didn’t blow out during this period was testament to the Maori defence but it was no more than damage control. The inevitable breakdown penalty was inevitably kicked by Halfpenny for a 32-10 lead heading into the final ten minutes.
Those final ten minutes saw the Lions content to rest on their lead and 80% second half territory and possession advantage, and the Maori continue to make errors and become increasingly frustrated, leading to some mildly unsavoury off-the-ball action. The match ended with another dominant Lions scrum which seemed an apt summation of the night.
Lions: penalty try, try Itoje, con Halfpenny, pens Halfpenny (6)
Maori: try Messam, con McKenzie, pen McKenzie