Lions 31 Hurricanes 31
By Roger Childs
Great to see the Caketin full for the visitors game against the Super Rugby champions, with plenty of “Lions red” in the crowd.
This was a roller-coaster ride with the home team seemingly out of it at 23 -7 after conceding an intercept try and then another 7 pointer when their half back was in the bin.
But the Hurricanes came back and, in the end it was four tries to three, in a match the Wellington franchise very nearly won.
Coping with the expected Lions tactics
Apart from the All Blacks last Saturday, New Zealand teams have struggled to cope with the Lions rush defence and the powerful scrum. The Canes forwards in fact matched the visitors scrummaging and even pushed them back a couple of times. They also delivered quality ball from lineouts.
This allowed half back Te Toira Tahuriorangi, to deliver quick ball to the classy backs outside. Centres Vince Aso and Ngani Laumape played impressively as they have all year, and they combined brilliantly for the latter to score an early second half try to bring the score back to 23-14.
The backs varied the play to nullify the rush defence and as well as variations in their passing they often employed chip kicks to good effect. New All Black, Jordie Barrett, had an impressive game at fullback and his goal kicking saw four out of five sail between the posts. With Ben Smith out of the national team with concussion problems, young Barrett may well be in the squad for Saturday’s test.
Building to a thrilling climax
The turning point in the match was the sin-binning of Lions lock, Ian Henderson. He had been playing brilliantly, but blotted his copybook with a spear tackle late in the game that had him sitting on the lonely sideline chair for a crucial 10 minutes.
The home side seized their opportunity and scored two converted tries to move the score from 17-31 to 31-31.
It looked as if the Hurricane might well win the match when they surged forward on the left flank and across the line in the last few minutes, but a dubious penalty to the Lions saved the day for the visitors.
Roll on the test!
The All Blacks are in town for the second test encounter on Saturday. They won well in Auckland and caught out the Lions by playing a more conservative game than anticipated. They also had the better of the forward battle.
It would be foolish to write the Lions off, as they will have learned plenty from the Eden Park experience. In the first test, they scored a magnificent first half try from a breakout within their 22, and showed how good they are at supporting the ball carrier.
However beating the All Blacks is a difficult assignment, as the home side has no weaknesses and plenty of depth off the bench.
A Lions win would set up their mixed tour for a chance to win the all important test series back at Eden Park.
It’s possible, but on form, unlikely.