'We know who'll be eating dirt for the rest of the tour' - The New Zealand media slaughter the Lions' midweek side
The New Zealand press has taken aim at Warren Gatland's midweek team after they surrendered a nine-point lead in their 23-22 loss to the Highlanders today.
Jonathan Joseph, Tommy Seymour and captain Sam Warburton all ran in tries for the often-threatening Lions, but the tourists were undone late on at the coal face.
The Highlanders blasted the Lions off the ball, and Marty Banks slotted the 74th-minute penalty that wrestled the one-point lead - and eventually the result.
The Crusaders made the scrum a big talking point after the Lions defeated them 12-3 on Saturday, insisting the tourists struggled at the set-piece.
And here referee Angus Gardner certainly felt the hosts had the upper hand in the decisive skirmish.
Replacement Owen Farrell missed a routine shot at goal and Elliot Daly failed with a long-range effort, as the Highlanders joined the Blues in scalping the Lions.
Waisake Naholo and Liam Coltman claimed the tries for a Highlanders side missing nine regular starters, including All Blacks Aaron and Ben Smith.
The Lions will be left to lick the wounds of a second defeat in four matches on this tour, with Courtney Lawes a new injury doubt having suffered a nasty-looking head injury.
Mark Reason of Stuff.co.nz feels today's game established who will be in Warren Gatland's 23-man squad for the Tests and who will have to make do with midweek encounters.
"This match seems to have established who will be eating dirt for the rest of the tour. The Lions fumbled and missed tackles throughout the first half and at times were shambolic. Even their line speed paled with the side that beat the Crusaders," he wrote.
"The challenge for the dirt trackers now is to stay on tour mentally. That is a desperately hard thing to do and can make or break a tour. New Zealand is an unforgiving place for the disillusioned and the lonely. They must treat their remaining two games against the Chiefs and the Canes as a chance to level the midweek series.
"At least the Lions scored tries and at least one of those scores resulted when a couple of their players actually committed a defender. Ye Gods, we thought such things had been lost from northern hemisphere rugby - Mike Gibson and Barry John, look on their works and despair.
"But we should be thankful for even these meagre crumbs of the bread of heaven. CJ Stander, who must surely be on the bench in the tests, took on one defender and then Biggar, with his best moment on tour, committed a second. It wasn't wonderful, but in the context of the Lions it was wondrous."
Gregor Paul from the New Zealand Herald claimed the Lions wilted in the final quarter of the game.
"The last 30 minutes, however, they fell apart. They failed to nail the big moments. Their skills under pressure were poor.
"They didn't deal with the high ball or the Highlanders kicking game. They didn't make the passes stick. They didn't keep their discipline. They didn't look like they really believed in themselves and they slithered out the game - like a snake that realises the prey it has targeted is just too big to be taken."
Richard Loe, also writing for the New Zealand Herald, accused the tourists of using dark arts in defence.
"I'll give the Lions the opportunity to make this selection themselves, but the loss to the Highlanders showed the tourists are either lazy or cynical in a couple of facets.
"The hosts got away from the tackled ball as soon as possible, whereas you often spied red shirts lying in the back of the ruck or rolling the wrong way to kill the ball.
"The Lions also regularly creep up offside on defence - they call it "line speed".
"They are not trusting their pace or agility, and a couple of cases justified a yellow card rather than a penalty."
New Zealand Herald's Patrick McKendry believes the performance highlighted the lack of depth in the Lions squad.
"Lions' coach Warren Gatland reckons there isn't much difference between NZ Super Rugby teams and the All Blacks. Many would disagree, and it's becoming increasingly clear that the Lions' so-called mid-weekers are nowhere as good as those who will start the first test."