Lions tour: Warren Gatland finally gets chance to return fire to critics after win over Crusaders

Lions prevail in war of attrition against Crusaders

At last, Warren Gatland got his chance to squeeze off some shots of his own.

In the wake of the British and Irish Lions 12-3 victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night, coach Gatland, probably still picking the buckshot out of his hide following the mid-week loss to the Blues and mediocre performance in the opener against the NZ Baabaas, didn’t waste his chance to return fire.

“It has been a tough week, there has been a lot of criticism hasn’t there?” Gatland said. “People have written the tour off after just two games, and that has been challenging. We just had to stay strong within the group and keep the faith and say ‘look the goal is the test matches and … to improve on that.

Gatland shouldn’t have had to go too far from his laager to find some folks who were chuffed with this result; the vocal Lions fans, who made their presence felt at AMI Stadium, would have flooded the city’s watering holes to acknowledge their side’s victory over a team yet to taste defeat in Super Rugby.

Gatland’s lot did a number on the Crusaders and you couldn’t gripe about the result; the game plan was simple, and executed with brutal efficiency.

In addition to raining down bombs on the Crusaders back three, the Lions’ used a defensive line-speed that forced the Mainlanders into uncharacteristic errors, which reduced their chances to unleash their trademark counterattacks.

Their set pieces were also competitive, although the Crusaders hardly helped themselves by botching several lineouts in the first half.

Complaints about the way French referee Mathieu Raynal handled the scrums are already flowing in thick and fast, and afterwards Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock took a diplomatic stance.

Whitelock, who had to watch as his front rowers Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks seethed whenever Raynal lectured them, acknowledged his side struggled to adapt to the interpretation of the law according to the Frenchman – getting the gap and balance right was a talking point at halftime.

Until this defeat, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson hasn’t had to deliver a post-match sermon in the wake of a loss.

Owen Farrell, pictured kicking one of his four penalties at AMI Stadium, made his first start of the tour for the British and Irish Lions.

Although they expected the Lions to employ the blitz defence, as they did against the Blues, and was clearly not thrilled about the way his scrum, which contained six All Blacks, was caned by Raynal, he said they let themselves down with their own execution.

“It was like a washing machine, go back and go forward, as they put the ball behind you,” Robertson said. “We just didn’t deal with it as well as we would have liked to.”

This was no mean feat by the Lions who will face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Tuesday night – even if they had to rely on Owen Farrell to kick four penalties.

Keeping the Crusaders try-less, one of the most lethal attacking teams in Super Rugby, will be a massive confidence booster. So, too, was the way the backline functioned after having to be re-jigged following the loss of fullback Stuart Hogg and centre Jonathan Davies because they failed head injury assessments.

“We were up against the most creative team in Super Rugby and they didn’t create a lot of chances,” Gatland noted.

About 20 minutes after Gatland had delivered his sermon a small earthquake caused the city to shake. You could also say the Lions’ have sent a message will reverberate throughout New Zealand; maybe it won’t cause great anxiety for All Blacks fans, but it should give them cause to think twice when saying their team should steam through the test series 3-0.

British and Irish Lions 12 (Owen Farrell 4 pen) Crusaders 3 (Richie Mo’unga pen) HT: 9-3


Blues silence Lions’ roar after fumbly Eden Park clash A torrid tour looks longer by the day.

Ihaia West’s late try gave the Blues a famous win over the British and Irish Lions.

It took all of 74 minutes but the difference between New Zealand rugby and the Lions eventually came to the fore.

Creativity, endeavour and offloads saw the Blues record a historic 22-16 triumph over the tourists at Eden Park, piling the pressure on Warren Gatland.

Watch it again and again if you can. Down by one point with time running out, Steven Luatua, in his final home match for the Blues, delivers a silky offload to Sonny Bill Williams who does likewise for Ihaia West. The out-of-favour Blues playmaker turns hero to scoot around two Lions defenders and race under the bar. It was brilliant, but not totally unexpected when it comes to New Zealand rugby.

Lions assistant coach Rob Howley described these sort of plays as ‘rugby chaos’. When it comes off like this, it is more like rugby romance. This was a magic moment.

The Lions still had one final shot to win it but they botched a lineout five metres out from the Blues line, robbing them of the chance to rumble over again. The Blues kicked the ball into touch and erupted. As did most of the 40,000 that packed the stands.

While the Blues are the first Super Rugby team to face – and beat – the Lions, they also follow the Auckland provincial team’s to knock over the same opposition on the same ground in 1930, 1983 and 1993. Memorable indeed.

Three-tries-to-one is reason enough to say the Blues deserved to win. That they did it with a scrum that was pinged off the park only enhances their claims.

Gatland’s men deserve credit for showing character to not concede with Liam Williams in the bin. But they again offered little on attack and now face the prospect of taking on the All Black-laden Crusaders pack three days later in Christchurch. Good luck with that.

Rieko Ioane starred on the left wing for the Blues, scoring one try and being denied two others. Once he had a foot in touch; the other was pulled back for a forward pass. But he was lethal with every touch.

Williams took a major step up on attack and defence, putting in countless tackles. But this was a collective effort from the Blues.

Over their jet-lag, the Lions arrived with much more energy than their first outing in Whangarei. Not that it was hard to improve from such a low starting point. Their line speed and rush defence frequently knocked the Blues ball carries back and made it difficult to get go-forward. One big hit from Courtney Lawes on Stephen Perofeta summed up their intent and aggression to shut down time and space.

But, on a wet Auckland night, the Lions also showed their hand and potentially lack of aerobic fitness by attempting to slow the pace at every opportunity – walking slowly to each lineout in especially.

Perofeta, in his first start for the Blues at No 10, did not look overawed. Twice he backed his instincts to throw ambitious long passes that put Ioane away, one of which resulted in the opening try. The 20-year-old made a try-saving tackle on Jared Payne; one cross field kick found Matt Duffie, and his touch line kicking was also generally sound. He dropped one ball on his own line under pressure but, otherwise, lived up to the hype in the biggest occasion of his career.

It was not an easy night but the composed nature of his 50-minute shift saw him receive a warm reception when replaced by West.

In the face of Warrenball criticism this week, the Lions offloaded at times and turned down two shots at goal in favour of backing their rolling maul. The Blues tried but failed to stop the second crack, conceding a try to CJ Stander. But, despite their dominance of possession, the Lions again created few genuine chances. Their maul still appears the greatest weapon.

Pressure, patience and phases did not translate into points, though french referee Pascal Guzere did the Lions few favours.

The Blues defence, strong all season, again held firm.

Tana Umaga’s men battled to get their share of the pill, partly because their scrum was a shambles and their lineout struggled to win clean ball. But they always looked more dangerous when they did control possession, much more so in the second half.

Halfback Rhys Webb and Stander were among the Lions’ best. English locks Maro Itoje and Lawes were strong, too. But given what’s to come, Gatland will again be forced to clutch for positives.

A torrid tour looks longer by the day.


Blues: (Rieko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams, Ihaia West tries, Stephen Perofeta con, Ihaia West pen, con )

Lions: (CJ Stander try, Leigh Halfpenny con, pen 3)

HT: 12-10

– Stuff

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