Rugby Union: Inspired Lions stage dramatic recovery

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New Zealand Maoris. . .20

British Isles. . . . . 24

THIS WAS one of the great rugby comebacks with Gavin Hastings's Lions overturning a 20-0 half-time deficit to retain their unbeaten record in New Zealand. When the final whistle sounded the Lions raised their arms in triumph, knowing they had taken part in a truly remarkable match.

Their victory over the New Zealand Maoris was fashioned by two moments of brilliance by Ieuan Evans, the Wales captain. His try mid-way through the second half ignited the Lions and changed the nature of the contest. From a hopeless position with little going right, the Lions suddenly found themselves just three points behind.

Evans appeared to have little room in which to manoeuvre when he received the ball close to the touchline 21 minutes into the second half. A sidestep off his right foot left his opposite number, Allan Prince, floored and the full- back, Sam Doyle, was negated with a magical swerve. The Llanelli wing, a test certainty, scored wide out and Gavin Hastings, the inspirational captain, added the conversion.

That try was particularly satisfying for Evans, who had mistimed a seventh-minute tackle and allowed Prince to open the Maoris' scoring. Evans was in the action again moments after his try when a loose Maori kick dropped into his arms on the Lions 22. He quickly assessed the situation and spotted team-mates to his left. The wing committed the first tackler and swift passing by the centres, Will Carling and Scott Hastings, gave Rory Underwood crucial room on the outside. The England flyer smoothly accelerated away from Eric Rush, and 60 metres later placed the ball under the posts.

All the script needed now was a winning try from the captain, whose calm assurance had helped steady a ship that, throughout the first half, was threatening to disappear under the waves of Maori attacks. Gavin Hastings duly obliged with a try that epitomised his commitment to attack and unflinching self-belief.

The Lions won clean ball from Damian Cronin at a line-out, and used Scott Hastings on the crash ball in midfield. Peter Winterbottom, having another great game, was the link-man and the Lions moved left at pace.

Gavin Hastings had Carling and Underwood in support, but chose to use them as decoys. He jinked inside one tackle, through another and over the top of a third would-be obstacle as he stretched for the line. The captain kicked the conversion, but failed with two long-range penalties, which at least helped kill time as the Lions edged towards victory.

'I have never played in a match where I have come back from so many points down and won,' Gavin Hastings said. 'Ieuan produced two breathtaking moments and I am proud of the whole team.'

'Although we were 20-0 behind no one was panicking, and I told the players at half-time we could win. We just could not get hold of possession in the first half and I knew we had to get back to the basics and then use the pace we have in this squad.'

Thankfully, this match did not feature any of the ugliness that had grabbed the headlines after the North Harbour contest. The Maoris were too busy scoring points in the first half to test the Lions' patience.

Steve Hirini, their outside-half, was the chief tormentor. He converted Prince's early score and then added two penalties and a try of his own to leave the Lions floundering.

They would have been even further behind if Prince had rounded off a 37th-minute raid that started deep in Maori territory. Clever support running and impressive handling left Lions players trailing as the Maoris swept up field.

Dewi Morris pulled off a crucial tackle as the attack entered the Lions 22 and the ball was switched to the left. The Lions had just enough men still standing to mount a defensive line, but this featured Ben Clarke, the No 8, out on the right wing. He faced the elusive Prince and a try seemed a certainty. Clarke refused to be rushed into the tackle and used his strength to haul Prince down a metre short.

The Lions did concede a penalty, which Hirini kicked, but three points was better than seven, as the final score proved.

NEW ZEALAND 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), M Cooksley, J Coe (Counties), 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, 74.

Referee: G Lempriere (Palmerston North).

Scores: 7-0 (try/con Prince/Hirini, 8 min), 10-0 (pen Hirini, 21 min), 17-0 (try/con Hirini/Hirini, 23 min), 20-0 (pen Hirini, 39 min), 20-3 (pen G Hastings, 50 min), 20-10 (try/con Evans/G Hastings, 61 min), 20-17 (try/con R Underwood/G Hastings, 63 min), 20-14 (try/con (G Hastings/G Hastings, 72 min).

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