Wednesday 16 August 2017

British and Irish Lions player ratings: Jack Nowell and Liam Williams will have nightmares over this game

Liam Williams of the British & Irish Lions in action against Matt Duffie of the Blues during the match between Auckland Blues and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Liam Williams of the British & Irish Lions in action against Matt Duffie of the Blues during the match between Auckland Blues and the British & Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Nick Purewal

One moment of Sonny Bill Williams magic was all it took for Auckland Blues to sink the British and Irish Lions 22-16 at Eden Park.

All Blacks talisman Williams' tight line and offload let the onrushing Ihaia West race home for the late try that dispatched Warren Gatland's battling tourists.

The Lions botched the perfect chance to set their tour up and running by throwing away a potentially priceless victory against their first Super Rugby opposition.

Dan Biggar will be an immediate injury doubt after failing to return from a head injury assessment, while Jared Payne limped out in clear pain with a potential foot problem.

Rhys Webb enjoyed a fine game but departed late on with an issue the Lions will hope is nothing more than cramp.

Liam Williams was handed a deserved yellow card for two botched aerial challenges on Matt Duffie, but the Lions survived that scare - only to slip off in the final stages after claiming a 16-15 lead.

Rieko Ioane and Sonny Bill Williams claimed the Blues' other tries, while CJ Stander snaffled the lone score for the visitors.

Leigh Halfpenny's 11 points with the boot kept the tourists in touch, but to no avail.

Here's how the tourists rated.

BRITISH AND IRISH LIONS:

15 LEIGH HALFPENNY - The Wales full-back, who was ever present in the Test side four years ago, looked sharp. Solid under high ball and fleet of foot in attack. 8/10

14 JACK NOWELL - Came off his wing early on looking for action and carried well at time but was exposed defensively on a couple of occasions. 4/10

13 JARED PAYNE - Set the tone for the Lions with a thumping tackle early on and narrowly missed scoring at his former home ground. Showed class as defender before he had to limp off injury early in second half. 6/10

12 ROBBIE HENSHAW - It was a relatively subdued display by the Ireland centre, who was one of the stars of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign. Outshone by a dazzling Sonny Bill Williams  6/10

11 ELLIOT DALY - Showed touches of class under the high ball and in returning the ball but we never got to see him making a big impression going forward. 6/10

10 DAN BIGGAR - Huge hit on Sonny Bill Williams almost created a try for Payne but frustratingly for his Test hopes he was forced off in the first half with an injury. 6/10

9 RHYS WEBB - Box-kicking not always perfect but overall an impressively spiky and high tempo display by the Wales scrum-half, turning up the pressure on Conor Murray for the Test spot. 8/10

1 JACK MCGRATH - A big scrummaging performance from the Ireland prop who twice won penalties against the Blues tighthead Charlie Faumuina and was committed in the loose. 7/10

2 KEN OWENS - Solid effort from the captain on the night but not enough still for the win. 7/10

3 DAN COLE - Relentless work-rate and rock-like in the scrum and performance to suggest the tighthead position will be one of the tough Test calls. 7/10

4 MARO ITOJE - What stood out was the England lock’s line speed in defence. It was ferociously quick, while his physicality but in carrying and defence also impressed. At times too over-exuberant. 8/10

5 COURTNEY LAWES -The England lock may be considered an outsider for the Test spot but he delivered a monumental display, both in carries and defensively.  8/10

6 JAMES HASKELL - Penalised for neck roll early on but grew into the game with some strong carries and usual defensive workload. 7/10

7 JUSTIN TIPURIC - He could maintain his impressive tempo in the first half but did enough to put pressure on Sam Warburton to respond with a big display. 7/10

8 CJ STANDER - The Ireland No 8 was a huge carrying presence in the first half, but like Tipuric, could not maintain that influence through his display. 7/10

REPLACEMENTS:

RORY BEST (for Owens, 68) His first contribution was to help the Lions scrum win a penalty but his last was to see his throw-in to the Lions final attacking line-out lost. Could prove costly. 5/10

JOE MARLER (for McGrath, 53) Backed up his strong showing against the Barbarians with another combative display, giving Gatland plenty of options at loosehead. 6/10

KYLE SINCKLER (for Cole, 54) Once again brought energy to the Lions pack and looks like he could force his way into the Test squad contention as an impact player off the bench. 6/10

IAIN HENDERSON (for Lawes, 75) Not on long enough to rate.

PETER O'MAHONY (for Haskell, 53) Brought energy and grit but not much impact. 6/10

GREIG LAIDLAW (for Webb, 74) Not on long enough to rate

JOHNNY SEXTON (for Biggar, 35) Biggar’s first-half injury handed the Ireland fly-half more time than expected but once again could not quite get the Lions backline firing. 6/10

LIAM WILLIAMS (for Payne, 47) Replaced Payne who limped off at start of second half and while he hit a couple of decent lines, was sent to sin bin for two clumsy challenges in the air. 5/10

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