Lions tour: Lions suffer first loss of tour against Blues
A scintillating try from the Blues with six minutes on the clock has seen them claim the scalp of the British and Irish Lions, 22-16 in front of a big Eden Park crowd.
Number eight Steven Luatua popped an offload out the back door to put second-five Sonny Bill Williams through a gap, who in turn produced another offload to replacement first-five Ihaia West who swerved his way past fullback Leigh Halfpenny to score the decisive try.
The Lions had a chance to win the game in the dying moments with a five metre line-out, but they missed the mark as the Blues kicked the ball out for an historic victory.
The Lions’ scrum was once again their most impressive trait with second-rowers Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes putting their hands up as the tourist’s premier locking combination with solid all-round performances.
Blues winger Rieko Ioane did everything he could to be included the All Blacks squad of 33, while Luatua continued his good form this season with plenty of big tackles, hard runs, and good work at the breakdown which should also see him called-up.
Sonny Bill Williams was a force on defense at second-five and grew in attack as the game went on to enhance his credentials to wear the number twelve jersey for the All Blacks in the first test, especially if Ryan Crotty is ruled out.
The game got off to an unusual beginning as the Blues unleashed their new haka to the tourists, who awkwardly had to regroup midway through the challenge after thinking it had already finished.
Young first-five Stephen Perofeta looked confident in his debut start for the Blues as his skip pass found All Blacks hopeful Rieko Ioane, who got on the outside of Lions winger Jack Nowell and scored the first try of the game in just the eighth minute.
Former Blues back Payne should’ve hit back immediately as the tourists created an overlap on the left-hand side, only for his foot to go into touch as he dived for the line in the tackle of Perofeta.
The Lions turned down a very kickable penalty chance to kick for touch instead, and the decision paid dividends as number eight CJ Stander scored from the ensuing drive for a 7-5 lead after 18 minutes.
A penalty from right in front of the posts extended the lead to 10-5 as the Lions dominated territory and possession in the opening 25 minutes and looked after the ball at the breakdown a lot better than they did in their tour-opening match in Whangarei.
The 40,639 thousand fans thought Blues winger Ioane was in for a second try, but replays clearly showed loosehead prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi was offside from the kick, as he made a huge tackle on Lions first-five Dan Biggar, who subsequently left the field for a concussion test and didn’t return.
A stroke of luck saw the Blues take a 12-10 lead into the break as a Perofeta penalty attempt hit the post and Lions winger Nowell, who had a shocker, was ruled to have knocked the ball back rather than TJ Faiane knocking it on as Williams pounced on the loose-ball in the in-goal to score the home team’s second try of the night.
Ihaia West replaced Perofeta in the 50th minute and instantly landed a shot at goal to put the Blues ahead 15-10 as the penalty count started to mount up against the Lions and the territory and possession stats turned the way of the home team.
Replacement winger Liam Williams was sent to the sin-bin in the 57th minute after twice collecting his Blues opposite Matt Duffie in the air while trying to challenge for the ball with discipline proving the biggest issue for Lions.
The Blues looked to have made the most of their numerical advantage as Ioane skipped away down the sideline only to be called back for a forward pass by West as the Lions finally got into the game for the first time in the second-half, kicking a penalty in the 65th minute to close the gap to 15-13.
Yet another scrum penalty against the Blues gave the Lions a chance to go ahead again, and fullback Leigh Halfpenny made it four from four with a 40 metre effort on the angle to put the tourists up 16-15 with nine minutes remaining.
But it was the Blues who had the final say with the magic passes of Luatua and Williams leading to West’s try on a night to remember for Blues fans which will surely heap more pressure on the Lions and their coach Warren Gatland.