Timely feed for the Lions ………………British and Irish Lions vs Maori All Blacks 17 June 2017 Rotorua

The wet drizzly conditions in the Bay of Plenty witnessed the British and Irish Lions throttling the Maori All Blacks with dominating territory and possession. Right from the start the Lions managed 17 phases of composed rugby before the Maoris finally cracked and Liam Messam was caught offside, playing advantage they went for a crosskick to the right wing but they got nothing from it and came back to the mark, for an easy conversion for Leigh Halfpenny. They would extend their lead to six points before the Maoris All Blacks responded with scrappily getting the ball to halfway and then going right with Milner-Skudder, opting for a grubber which was weighted beautifully and held up just outside the 22m. George North tried to recover sliding in but failed making the ball loose. Messam hacked it forward to score. The impressive efforts of the Lions forwards were again undermined by frustrating little errors and needless infringements and despite putting the Maoris under pressure with the high ball, The Lions conceded too many sloppy penalties and it allowed the Maoris to relieve pressure far too easily. Tadgh Furlong and Maro Itoje were guilty of giving away penalties too often and there was a perfect example at the end of the first half when Conor Murray kicked the ball out thinking it would be half-time without realising the rules had changed and now you must take the lineout if it’s a kick from a penalty. They got away with it but it could have been costly. However the half would end with the tourists leading 15-10 perhaps a time to reflect on missed chances from promising positions for the Lions and the Maoris to rediscover their free flowing game.
The second half saw the Lions taking complete control of the game as they converted a penalty early on after incessant forward pressure. Relentless Lions scrum power resulted in the most crucial ploy of the game coming down to a penalty try in the 50th minute.
It followed the sin-binning of halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow for a no arms tackle on Lions fullback Leigh Halfpenny which connected with his jaw as he went down in Damian McKenzie’s tackle. From the resulting penalty, the Lions twice set scrums which exposed the Maori fallibility in that area and the penalty try was awarded. Going straight back onto attack, they caught wing Rieko Ioane just out from the goal-line and drove him back to earn another five-metre scrum which, after No.8 Taulupe Faletau’s first run saw lock Maro Itoje drive under the defence for a second try in three minutes making the score 29-10, Earlier Jamie George had a try denied because of inconclusive evidence that he had grounded the ball over the goal-line. It is of no surprise that Lions recognised that after the Highlanders game loss midweek that they needed to play to their scrum strength which helped them bring about penalties aiding the win, but also because of how it limited the home side’s lethal backline. The Lions will need to display out and out ferocity for the full eighty minutes to keep the pressure on the opposition. A few players have definitely in my mind sealed their spots for next week’s opening Test against the All Blacks, Ben Te’o showed he has the ability to storm into contact, but there are too few offloads and no one running off his shoulder to break the line with pace and accuracy. That is vital given the way defences are these days. While George Kruis showed his leadership of the line-out will be invaluable to Gatland, and Itoje’s all-action game means he will surely start at lock. Anthony Watson, despite being starved of possession, did enough to suggest he could start. A positive as well was the penalty count which was limited to four, this is imperative to maintain such discipline of gifting away free points. To be successful the Lions will have be to physical, have a high work rate, exceptional line speed and an excellent kicking game , roll on Eden Park.

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