“Winning is a habit. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.” Were the famous words of Green Bay Packers superbowl winning coach Vince Lombardi . The Lions mid-week team can at least feel they have restored some pride and confidence and done much to improve the general perception of their abilities, in their last hit out before the first test against the All Blacks on Saturday. Head Coach Warren Gatland has caught a lot of flak from both the British and New Zealand press corp as he took the Lions to his hometown stadium where is amassed 140 plus caps for Waikato and is still fondly loved and remembered. His words to the team were simple yet direct play well, enjoy being in the red jersey as the door is still open to make the test team. Traditionally this is the game no one wants to play but Gatland made sure that his team knew that being a Lion is about, an honour one should cherish and that each performance midweek or on the Saturday contributes to the harmony of the group.
This match was a potential banana skin for the Lions as the Chiefs were bereft of nine first-team players after being ransacked by both the All Blacks and Maori All Blacks. Nothing less than a resounding victory would be required to both the record 30 000 in attendance, global audience as well as the coaches. The Lions were dominant from the onset winning both the lineout and scrums; they constructed a 20 phase play that allowed them to take an early lead through a Dan Biggar penalty. Indiscipline would rear its ugly head for the Lions as prop Joe Marler over exuberance saw him with a late shoulder charge on opposite man Nepo Laulala and earning himself a yellow card. Fortunately this seemed to galvanise the Lions as they managed to win a penalty with a powerful scrum. The Lions would emerge from the sin bin period ahead and not having conceded any points. The Chiefs would get punished for their poor set plays as the Lions’ went over for the first try of the night, after great backline play and Nowell scooping the loose ball from the ruck to dive over the line. Biggar converted making the score 13-3 –Lions in command. The rest of the first half petered into a foray of dross misadventure and lack of enterprise from both sides with handling errors creeping up.
The second half saw the Lions click into gear and raise their standard of play; a hallmark of the Lions has been the forwards who managed get the second penalty try of the tour as Chiefs Mitchell Brown was guilty of pulling down a driving maul bound for the line, earning himself a trip to the sin-bin. Courtney Lawes before the try had departed for his second HIA of the tour-a worrying sign for the coaches after clashing heads with teammate Marler. The Lions now in ascendancy would add a third try with a beautiful flowing move that so Elliot Daly speed down the left wing and delectably produced a divine pass to kiwi born Jared Payne who found Robbie Henshaw. The Irishman would be tackled but a quick play of the ball allowed the Lions to score through Nowell as he shimmied and cut back to score his second try of the match and Biggar adding the extras. Nowell would be involved once again as he deftly collected a miskick from Chiefs Captain Stephen Donald, feeding Liam Williams who cut back a superb line beating a raft of defenders to give former Hamilton schoolboy Payne a walk in to score .Conversion added on and the score was 34-6: great counter attack from the Lions.
The Lions would have another opportunity to score at the end as replacement Tommy Seymour butchered a certain try after a beautiful arching run from his own 22 metre line only for his final pass to Payne to go horribly wrong five metres out and also lead to his teammate being forced off at the end with a head injury. The match ended with unnecessary scuffles as ref Jerome Garces blew for full time. British and Irish Lions mid-weekers finally got the job done on this tour, they beat the Chiefs tonight by first relentlessly grinding away with that rush defence, strong set piece and then finally the backline sizzled and dazzled taking advantage of the space in attack. Forget about who was missing from the Chiefs as it was still a formidable side. The Lions had to harness their thoughts put them into action and make winning a habit thus determining their character and destiny ensuring the Lions will roar come Saturday at Eden Park but tonight the Lions ate.