Lions' midweek team secure their first Tour win in style with annihilation of the Chiefs
Chiefs 6 Lions 34
The Lions’ midweek team have joined the party and a happy camp will wind its way to Auckland tonight ahead of Saturday’s series opener thanks to the biggest win of the tour to date.
They won’t mind that this severely weakened Chiefs team failed to fire in front of a disappointed home contingent in the 29,974 capacity crowd, a four-try win showed New Zealand that they can play a bit as well as they continue to develop.
A few of them might even have planted some doubt in Warren Gatland’s mind ahead of tomorrow’s selection meeting, with CJ Stander impressive and second-rows Iain Henderson and Courtney Lawes both putting their hands up.
Jack Nowell touched down twice, but it was Elliot Daly who was withdrawn on the hour-mark which suggests he’ll wear the No 23 shirt at Eden Park.
They scored their best try of the tour so far and found the attacking going good as the game wore on and the largely inexperienced home side tired, while their defence had their second shut-out on tour.
Focus will switch to the main event quickly, but for the likes of Robbie Henshaw it was important to get a first win on tour under their belts.
An early chance for the home team to get off to a strong start was foiled by an excellent Lawes lineout steal.
Instead it was the Lions who opened the scoring through Dan Biggar’s boot, although they might have gotten more out of a 20-phase set in the Chiefs’ ’22 that was undone by poor handling from Liam Williams.
A despairing Lawes tackle stopped Toni Pulu before the tourists were reduced to 14 men when Joe Marler stupidly hit Nepo Laulala with a shoulder with the ball elsewhere. Jerome Garces had no hesitation in sending him to the sin-bin.
Rather than take points, Stephen Donald kicked to the corner only for Stander to fight his way through the maul and force a scrum and it was the Lions who would double their lead at the other end through Biggar’s boot after Allen Dell had forced a penalty on his first scrum as a replacement for Marler.
Donald narrowed the gap after Lawes went off his feet at a ruck in front of the posts, but the Lions extended their lead with a try through Nowell who made big gains up the right before Biggar carried the ball towards the line and the winger picked and crashed over from close-range.
Biggar converted an the Lions went for another with a lineout drive close to the line, but the maul came down before it got over and the Chiefs could clear from the scrum.
Instead, Donald was able to narrow the gap to 13-6 on the stroke of half-time after Elliot Daly was penalised for not retreating.
Gatland’s men hit back with their maul earning a penalty try that resulted in Mitch Brown seeing yellow and the seven-pointer – the conversion now no longer takes place – put the tourists in control.
They stretched their lead further with a try of real quality as Liam Polwart’s over-threw a lineout and Biggar swept the ball wide through the hands where Daly made ground up the left before passing inside to Jared Payne who sent Robbie Henshaw surging forward.
A big ruck clear-out by James Haskell helped keep the attack moving and the ball was moved right with Iain Henderson delivering a lovely pass to Nowell who stepped inside the cover to score.
Biggar converted and the fourth try wasn’t long coming as a loose Donald chip fell nicely to Liam Williams who returned with interest, found Nowell and he fed Payne to score on his return to his old home ground.
He would have had another but for a brainless piece of play from Tommy Seymour who ruined his own good work by closing down the centre’s space and then delivering a woeful pass.
Interestingly, Gatland didn’t bring any of the controversial sextet of call-ups on before the end; only Dell became a Lion when he briefly came on during Marler’s yellow card.
That and all the other issues will fade into the background this week as the All Blacks loom into view.
CHIEFS – S Stevenson; T Pulu (C Tiatia 12), T Nanai-Williams, J Fa’auli, S Alaimalo (L Laulala 66); S Donald, F Christie (J Taumateine 58); S Fisiihoi (A Ross 65), L Polwart (H Elliot 60), N Laulala (A Moli ); D Bird, M Allardice (M Karpik 65); M Brown, L Boshier, T Sanders (L Messam 55).
LIONS – L Williams; J Nowell, J Payne (E Daly 77), R Henshaw, E Daly (T Seymour 60); D Biggar, G Laidlaw; J Marler (A Dell 16-24), R Best (capt) (K Dacey ), D Cole (T Francis ); I Henderson, C Lawes (AW Jones 53-58 HIA); J Haskell (A Dell 14), J Tipiuric, CJ Stander.
Referee: J Garces (France)