When the Hunter becomes the hunted ………………7th May 2017 Eden Park, Auckland .New Zealand British and Irish Lions vs Auckland Blues

Biologists have long said that lions will band together to hunt prey, if a pride works as one cohesive unit there are unstoppable. Here is where the British and Irish Lions have to learn from their animal namesakes, especially as now they have become the hunted and not the hunter. A wet Eden Park provided a dramatic, harsh but nevertheless real setting for the second game of the tour. The quality of the opposition was upgraded from the heroic Provincial Barbarians to the Auckland Blues who were viewed as the weakest of the New Zealand super rugby franchises, which is never a good idea to point out to any team. The Lions on the other hand were out to prove their mettle after their first game.
There was a haka before the match named “He Toa Takatini” from the Blues which means the strength of many, a first in their 21 year history. The Lions started with intensity as they looked to establish control and domination targeting the Auckland forwards. A 14 phase play would be ruined by indiscipline and hand the Auckland Blues their first try, manufactured from young standoff Stephen Perofeta fabulously feeding a long pass to Reiko Ioane who simply seared past Jack Nowell. The Lions did respond immediately only for the TMO to rule out a try for returning former Blues player Irish Centre Jared Payne with a foot in touch. Just rewards were received as the forwards engineered a try through patient maul build-up in the 24th minute. Halfpenny extended the Lions’ lead to 10-5 with a penalty from under the posts after several impressive scrums. Lions starting fly half Biggar was tackled by Tu’ungafasi which forced him off the pitch for a Health Impact Assessment, Johnny Sexton took his place, and the Welshman did not return. High drama would unfold in the overtime minutes of half time as Stander’s careless high tackle on Steven Luatua gave Perofeta a shot at goal in which he struck the post. Nowell rose to compete with Blues replacement TJ Faiane for the ball in the air but Nowell only managed to knock it backwards behind the Lions’ tryline – as a lengthy TMO review showed. The returning Williams then won the race to the ball and slid in to skilfully land his hand on the ball. Marius Jonker in the review box eventually awarded the try, Perofeta tapped over the conversion and the Blues led 12-10 at half time.
The second half started with the Blues nearly surging ahead but the television match official was once again involved and deemed that the exciting Reiko Ioane had a foot in touch after Jack Nowell did well to tackle him. The Lions seemed not to be able to cope with vibrancy of the Auckland team, hooker Parsons led a breakout from their own 22 metre line only for Duffie to fail in gathering an offload. Lions’ terrible indiscipline led to further punishment as substitute West put them 15-10 ahead. Further infringements whilst in the Blues 22 would lead to substitute Liam Williams being sin binned. The Lions would rally having a man down and come out of that period with three points. They retook the lead after the forwards won a penalty 40m out with a dominant scrum to which Halfpenny duly converted making the score 16-15. Unnecessary kicking away of the ball to the Blues led to another moment of magic as a series of offloads from Luatua to Sonny Bill Williams onto West who showed amazing guile and pace to score a sensational try under the posts. There would a further twist to this fascinating battle as the Lions’ had a penalty in the 79th minute, with only a converted try guaranteeing victory they opted for a lineout just five metres from the Auckland tryline as they had been imperious with their set piece. Somehow inexplicably they botched lineout as Rory Best overthrew, game was over. Auckland Blues were magnificent and disregarded their status as the weakest of the franchise teams albeit they did have eight All Blacks in the team. They played together and for each other- something that should be within the DNA of the British and Irish Lions. As for the Lions they have to realise they are a prized scalp to be claimed against every side they play. Solo runners into contact, indiscipline or a lack of cohesion and understanding will not do. They are the hunted and they must roar together to overcome and be unstoppable.

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