Rugby Union: Inspirational Hastings steadies caged Lions: New Zealand Maoris expose some worrying forward failings before tourists escape from trap while Fijians falter up front in their Test

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HAIL Gavin Hastings, a rock of a captain when things get rocky. Hail Ieuan Evans, a creator and taker of opportunities at the peak of his powers. Above all, hail the Lions for the most dramatic, nerve-stretching recovery any of them had ever known. 'When I got to the dressing-room, I was still shaking like a leaf,' Hastings junior, younger brother Scott, gasped.

And hail, too, to the Maoris who with the Lions produced as thrilling a spectacle as it would be possible to envisage. Every preconception the people of New Zealand, in their ignorance, had about these tourists is now utterly shattered. The big forwards of whom so much has been made here are struggling; instead, the Lions have become snappers-up of trifles.

Once the putative Test team come together, as they will for next Saturday's game against Otago, perhaps there will be more conviction about the pack performance. But those who faced the Maoris at Athletic Park were beaten at the line-out, uncomfortable in the scrummage and, with tight forwards straggling, seldom hunted as a unit in the loose.

Add in a long succession of blunders by backs as well as forwards which culpably turned over the Lions' already limited possession, plus the inspired effort of a Maori side playing for their very future as a separate rugby entity, and the Lions found themselves trailing by 20 points at half-time.

It would have been worse had Ben Clarke not somehow positioned himself to bring off a try-saving tackle on Allen Prince, though at the time the tourists' predicament seemed bad enough. With the sun glaring in the Lions' eyes, all the worthwhile rugby was coming from the Maoris, whose mauling regularly shunted the Lions forwards back yards. In the circumstances, it was a wonder the Lions' defence did not disintegrate entirely.

But then it was a day of wonder, of a rugby miracle, really. Not that the management were deriving too much satisfaction. 'Criticism is much more readily taken when you have won a game,' Ian McGeechan, the coach, advised.

He will be the one dishing out the criticism before Wednesday's game against Canterbury, though as the Lions will then be fielding the XV who did not start in Wellington it will not be until Saturday in Dunedin that we know for sure whether it has not only been taken but acted on.

The Maoris had two tries while scoring 20 unanswered points. Prince's wild lunge at Gavin Hastings in pursuit of Stu Forster's kick should have disqualified the first, which Prince then scored, but subsequently the Lions could scarcely complain about Grant Lempriere's refereeing, which was a model of even-handedness after their midweek misadventure with Alan Riley.

Later, Scott Hastings spilled the ball straight into grateful Maori hands to present Steve Hirini with the second try and by the interval the optimism that had greeted earlier victories over North Auckland and North Harbour had disappeared. As late as the 61st minute the Lions were still trailing by 17 points.

'We didn't want to panic,' Gavin Hastings said. This is not something he ever does, and when the Lions were at their worst it was he, above anyone, who stayed steady. When his team had finally broken loose, it was he who applied the coup de grace with the decisive try.

It was a prodigious captain's effort, even if the fleeting moments of inspiration which turned things round were provided by another captain, Evans of Wales. His sinuous run inside Prince and outside Sam Doyle for the first try was an act of genius, followed two minutes later by the catch, run and pass which freed Will Carling, Scott Hastings and finally Rory Underwood for the second.

Critically, Hastings converted both before the distinctive charging run with which he scored the third eight minutes from the end. 'I kept cutting in and cutting in and there were more and more black jerseys to get past,' he said. It is a feeling that will become familiar before the tour is out. A third Hastings conversion meant that the Lions had somehow scored 21 points in 11 minutes.

It had been heroic, epic, wonderful, astounding - but at the same time this was an ominously disorganised, frankly rather poor Lions display and certainly not one that suggested any progress since the first two tour matches. 'We are still growing up as a side,' McGeechan tried to explain. 'We have no divine right to play well all the time.' Fair enough, but they do need to play a whole lot better.

Maoris: Tries Prince, Hirini; Conversions Hirini 2; Penalties Hirini 2. British Isles: Tries Evans, R Underwood, G Hastings; Conversions G Hastings 3; Penalty G Hastings.

NZ MAORIS: S Doyle (Manawatu); E Rush (North Harbour), G Konia (Hawke's Bay), R Ellison (Waikato), A Prince (Nelson Bays); S Hirini (Wellington), S Forster (Otago); G Hurunui (Horowhenua), N Hewitt (Hawke's Bay), K Boroevich (North Harbour), J Coe, M Cooksley (Counties), J Joseph, A Pene (Otago, capt), Z Brooke (Auckland).

BRITISH ISLES: G Hastings (Scotland, capt); I Evans (Wales), S Hastings (Scotland), W Carling, R Underwood; S Barnes, D Morris (England); N Popplewell (Ireland), B Moore (England), P Wright, D Cronin (Scotland), W Dooley, M Teague, B Clarke, P Winterbottom (England). Replacements: J Leonard (England) for Popplewell, 50; J Guscott (England) for Carling, 73.

Referee: G Lempriere (Palmerston North).

(Photograph omitted)

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