British and Irish Lions vs Maori All Blacks: Two-try tourists dominate hosts to prepare for New Zealand challenge

Maori All Blacks 10 British and Irish Lions 32: Leigh Halfpenny kicks 20 points as Maro Itoje scores his first try for the Lions in impressive victory

Jack de Menezes
Rotorua International Stadium
Saturday 17 June 2017 10:30
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Taulupe Faletau dives for the line during the British and Irish Lions' victory over the Maori All Blacks
Taulupe Faletau dives for the line during the British and Irish Lions' victory over the Maori All Blacks

As disruptive days go, the Warren Gatland will do well to find more testing ones than Saturday. Six new players joining up with the squad, Ross Moriarty heading home in a second injury blow of the week and what looked to be the toughest match of the pre-Test series schedule.

And yet the Lions head coach will go to bed with a smile on his face and a genuine belief that his side can challenge the All Blacks next weekend when they meet in the first Test at Eden Park. 24 hours after watching the reigning world champions put 78 unanswered points past Samoa, the Lions responded with an impressive 32-10 victory over the Maori All Blacks.

It stemmed from a dominance in the scrum that the Lions believe they will enjoy in the Test series, and while they are still yet to click outside of the half-backs, this looked like a side starting to gel. More importantly, it made the headlines about rugby once again, and not Gatland’s decision to bring in Tomas Francis, Kristian Dacey, Cory Hill and Gareth Davies of Wales, along with the anticipated arrivals of Scottish duo Finn Russell and Allen Dell.

If anyone believed before kick-off that the Maori All Blacks would be a pushover, they need only look at their record. For a team that spends very little time together, they have put together a 20-match winning streak against international sides that dates back to 2009, with England being the last side to beat them.

But the Lions started the game well and within five minutes were ahead on the scoreboard thanks to the reliable boot of Leigh Halfpenny when Liam Messam was penalised for not rolling away. It was a lead that the full-back doubled five minutes later after a smart box-kick from Conor Murray led to Reiko Ioane knocking the ball forwards and into his own player.

The Lions looked settled and some would say even in control, but then they self-combusted. The Maori had clearly devised a tactic to hit the Lions quickly with a cunning lineout move that involved a dummy throw-in, putting the ball down, then waiting until the Lions defenders had turned their backs before taking the quick lineout. It was smart play and it came to fruition.

Halfpenny kicked 20 points in total

After two quick penalties, Nehe Milner-Skudder came around the corner on the right of the field and chipped ahead from halfway. Halfpenny was there to field the ball, but he left it to George North to slide back and collect, only he didn’t. The pair missed the ball and No 8 Messam hacked it on before winning the race to touch down, with Damian McKenzie’s conversion giving the Maori the lead.

Halfpenny’s third penalty in the 20th minute briefly put the Lions ahead only for McKenzie to add one of his own, and while the tourists were growing into the game by the minute, ill-discipline was again hurting them. Maro Itoje was penalised twice in a row, the first needlessly throwing the ball away that produced McKenzie’s chance at goal, while Tadgh Furlong was also singled out for not rolling away.

Sexton pushed his Test credentials with another strong performance 

Yet it would be Itoje that the Lions had to thank in the final minute of the half as he latched onto the ball to win a crucial penalty when the Lions were camped 10 metres off their own line, although there would still be a moment to forget as Murray kicked the ball straight into touch, unaware the new World Rugby laws require him to make the ball live again before kicking it out. Luckily the Lions would deal with the lineout and head to the changing rooms 12-10 up.

For all the Lions’ dominance, they needed a base to attack from, and they found it in the scrum. Referee Jaco Peyper was losing his patience with the Maori All Blacks and their repeated infringements in the red zone, and when a second scrum in succession collapsed, he had no hesitation in heading under the posts for a seven-point haul, having already sent scrum-half Tawera Kerr-Barlow to the sin-bin for a shoulder charge to Halfpenny’s head as he was tackled.

Jonathan Davies enjoyed his first full run-out of the tour 

Five minutes later the Lions were at it again, and while the scrum didn’t quite make it over the line, the recycled ball allowed Itoje to smash his way over. It was the cue for Gatland to unload his replacements, a move that disjointed the game and led to a pointless final 10 minutes, but also a sign that he believes his Test side are ready for the All Blacks. The waiting is almost over.

Teams

Maori All Blacks: James Lowe, Nehe Milner-Skudder, Matt Procter (Rob Thompson, 54), Charlie Ngatai, Reiko Ioane; Damian McKenzie (Ihaia West, 67), Tawere Kerr-Barlow (Bryn Hall, 74); Kane Hames (Chris Eves, 61), Ash Dixon (Hikawera Elliot, 70), Ben May (Marcel Renata, 70); Joe Wheeler (Leighton Price, 70), Tom Franklin; Akira Ioane, Elliot Dixon (Kara Pryor, 72), Liam Messam.

British and Irish Lions: Leigh Halfpenny; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Davies, Ben Te’o, George North (Elliot Daly 63); Johnny Sexton (Dan Biggar, 67), Conor Murray (Greig Laidlaw, 68); Mako Vunipola (Jack McGrath, 60), Jamie George (Ken Owens, 65), Tadhg Furlong (Kyle Sinckler, 65); Maro Itoje, George Kruis (Iain Henderson, 60); Peter O’Mahony (Sam Warburton, 63), Sean O’Brien, Taulupe Faletau.

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