Lions tour: British and Irish Lions outclass underwhelming Maori All Blacks
The British and Irish Lions have responded to the All Blacks' thrashing of Manu Samoa with a powerful 32-10 demolition of the Maori All Blacks in front of 28,000 fans in Rotorua.
It was a victory based around a strong forward display led by English lock Maro Itoje, who may've played his way into the Test team with an impressive all-round display, antagonising the Maori at ruck time and proving a hard man to stop with ball in hand.
Halfback Conor Murray once again controlled things with his towering box-kicks, while his Irish teammate Johnny Sexton was solid but not spectacular in the number ten jersey, having his best outing of the tour so far.
Regular fullback Damien McKenzie's audition at first-five failed to impress after All Blacks coach Steve Hansen suggested number ten should be the 22 year-old's long-term position, as he struggled with his punting and decision-making while fullback James Lowe also had a night to forget in the wet conditions.
Smoke from the fireworks hung over the field like it was a battleground and you struggled to see from one side of the field to the other as the Maori All Blacks emerged from the haze, advancing on the tourists with a fearsome haka challenge.
There was a smell of sulphur rather than napalm in the air and Lowe's first touch was a bit stink as he kicked the ball out on the full, inviting the Lions into their 22 metre zone which turned into an easy three points for fullback Leigh Halfpenny.
While the Lions were happy to deal in threes, the Maori were keen to take a more adventurous route as winger Nehe Milner-Skudder put in a grubber on the greasy turf, which the tourists couldn't handle, and number eight Liam Messam toed the ball ahead and pounced on it in the in-goal to the delight of the crowd as the home team led 7-6 after 13 minutes.
Welsh centre Jonathan Davies responded with an impressive line-break which saw him tackled just five metres from the line and the Maori were caught offside from the ruck as Halfpenny took the lead back with another penalty goal.
Tempers flared a little after a Lions maul was held up from the kick-off and the Maori were awarded a penalty after some push and shove from the tourists which McKenzie converted into three points for a 10-9 lead after 22 minutes.
The boot continued to be an important weapon for the Lions as Halfpenny regained possession from an up and under before Sexton found the sideline just five metres out from the Maori line, but the tactic didn't pay dividends as the hosts got themselves out of trouble.
Another attacking raid from the Lions turned into another three points as they began to assert their dominance at the rucks, but their 62% territory and 56% possession advantage only amounted in a 12-10 lead at halftime.
The drizzle became more persistent in the second half as Maori halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow was sin-binned for a high tackle that could've been a red card, as the Lions finally made their dominance count with a penalty try from a five metre scrum and a 22-10 lead after 51 minutes.
McKenzie's bizarre decision to chip the ball from his own 22 metre line saw the Lions pounce once again forcing the Maori back over their goal-line for another five metre scrum and a close-range try to Itoje who thoroughly deserve a five-pointer for a commanding 29-10 lead to the Lions.
Halfpenny added another three points to close out a dominant 20-nil second-half effort where the Lions didn't allow the talented Maori backline a chance to shine due to their powerful forward effort and clinical kicking game.
The one-sided result has certainly added plenty of intrigue to next weekend's highly-anticipated first Test at Eden Park, and the early tour predictions of a comfortable whitewash for the All Blacks may have to be rethought after the Lions impressive display.