Monday 24 July 2017

We just can't keep giving 'ruthless' locals a shot - Best

Highlanders 23 Lions 22

Rory Best and Jonathan Joseph of the British and Irish Lions following their defeat to the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Rory Best and Jonathan Joseph of the British and Irish Lions following their defeat to the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin, New Zealand. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

The Lions will insist that this is just another bump on the road, a "hiccup" as Rory Best put it, but in terms of deflating the momentum of Saturday's win over the Crusaders, this collapse was pretty effective.

Whether it hampers the Test effort remains to be seen. On this evidence, not a lot of the players involved will have much to do on three weekends coming after this one.

For the second time, the midweek team managed to squander a lead in the closing stages.

In Auckland, they were undone by a moment of sublime magic from a couple of special players. In Dunedin yesterday, they shot themselves in the foot.

Up 22-13 thanks to Sam Warburton's try and Dan Biggar's conversion, Jared Payne spilled the kick-off to invite the Highlanders into Lions territory. Handed a chance to make it a five-point game later on, Owen Farrell missed with his first touch.

Inevitable

Jared Payne is tackled by Tevita Li. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Jared Payne is tackled by Tevita Li. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

It began to feel inevitable as the dark blue jerseys threw their weight behind the search for a historic win and duly the penalty came. Marty Banks nailed it.

As with in Auckland, there was a chance for the Lions to find their way back but once again they couldn't figure it out. Elliot Daly missed with an overly ambitious penalty, before Jonathan Joseph knocked on Farrell's pass in the last play.

"It's that ruthlessness," Best said when asked what lessons the tourists would take.

"If we get to Saturday or the following Tuesday or Saturday week more importantly and we go 22-13 up and we don't put a foot on the throat, that is what NZ teams are good at.

Elliot Daly kicks a penalty for the Lions. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Elliot Daly kicks a penalty for the Lions. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"When the game breaks up and you give them a chance back in, you give them half a sniff and they take it.

"I think if we're 22-13 up with 20 minutes left to play in 10 days' time, that's a point where you have got to get really strong, really exit and probably you have to be more clued in than at any other time on the game because that is when they are the most dangerous, whenever you feel you are out of sight of them."

If Warren Gatland is searching for positives - and he'd have to look hard - he'll find that his team's attack improved, out-scoring the home side three tries to two.

Iain Henderson was excellent in the loose, but complicit for a poor scrum and any forward involved in a maul-try concession won't be happy. Otherwise, there was little to shout about.

The Highlanders' All Blacks caused issues, with Waisake Naholo scoring his side's first try with the help of an Alex Ainley block that Robbie Henshaw believes should have at least been referred to the Television Match Official.

Robbie Henshaw is left on his back after a tackle from Malakai Fekitoa. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw is left on his back after a tackle from Malakai Fekitoa. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"I think I would have got a good shot on him (Naholo) if their player (Ainley) doesn't change his line," Henshaw said.

"If you look back at the footage he definitely steps. He doesn't stay in his position. He steps into me. I don't know. It's the TMO and the officials who deal with it. Certainly I think if he (Ainley) hadn't stepped I would have got to him.

"I said it to the ref but he said he had no issues with it. So, it's their decision."

A long way away from home, those decisions don't go your way.

Iain Henderson is brought down by Highlanders' Kayne Hammington. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Iain Henderson is brought down by Highlanders' Kayne Hammington. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Again, the Lions were upset at the scrum interpretations; while a sluggish Sam Warburton couldn't impact the breakdown.

Payne, who mixed the bad with the good, dropped the impressive Kyle Sinckler's pass with the line beckoning, while Rhys Webb was trying to do it all on his own.

When Greig Laidlaw came on, the whole thing slowed down. Farrell got the chance from the tee and missed a kick he'd normally nail.

"We had a couple of chances to exit at 22-13 and we didn't take any of them," Best said.

"A couple of unforced errors and we let them back in and then we let the crowd become a factor because we had done a lot at the start of the second half to silence the crowd and they got momentum again.

"When you give good sides, good players, momentum, there is a good chance they are going to take it and they did so for us we just weren't ruthless enough and that's ultimately where we are at with that."

Those are the lessons; learning and applying them is the next step on the road to success.

If this midweek group don't begin to pull it all together it's going to be a long, long tour for them. The distance between them and the Test elite is growing.

Highlanders - R Buckman; W Naholo, M Fekitoa (M Banks 12-17 HIA), T Walden, T Li (P Osborne 68); L Sopoaga (M Banks 55), K Hammington (J Renton 76); D Lienert-Brown (A Seuila ), L Coltman (G Pleasants-Tate ), S Tokolahi (S Halanukonuka ); A Ainley (J Dickson 55), J Hemopo; G Evans, D Hunt, L Whitelock.

Lions - J Payne (E Daly 63); J Nowell, J Joseph, R Henshaw, T Seymour; D Biggar (O Farrell 68), R Webb (G Laidlaw 48); J Marler (J McGrath 55), R Best (K Owens 25-29 blood, 49), K Sinckler (D Cole 49); C Lawes (AW Jones HIA 27), I Henderson; J Haskell, S Warburton (J Tipuric 68), CJ Stander.

Ref - A Gardner (Australia)

Irish Independent

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