After an impressive victory against the Crusaders, the British & Irish Lions’ hopes of gathering momentum were halted in Dunedin on Tuesday when the Highlanders rallied to win 23-22.
The Lions duo of Owen Farrell and Elliot Daly missed crucial penalties, setting up Highlanders goal-kicking ace Marty Banks as the match winner for the hosts.
The tourists scored more tries – three via centre Jonathan Joseph, wing Tommy Seymour and flanker Sam Warburton – and lost. The result will sting as they must now regroup to face the Maori All Blacks this weekend.
The Highlanders knew they had to keep the tempo as high as possible if they were to cause the Lions problems and they soon got their game in motion, with set-pieces avoided in favour of quick taps and throw-ins which kept the tourists on the move for the opening 40 minutes.
It was all the Highlanders in the early stages and they probably should have scored had centre Malakai Fekitoa passed to his left with a three on two very much on. Consolation came for the hosts though as the Lions were offside so Lima Sopoaga made it 3-0 on seven minutes.
In reply the Lions backed their power runners and went close to scoring tries on two occasions inside 30 seconds, with first Seymour stopped just short before Rhys Webb dropped the ball in his attempt to ground over a ruck. Biggar though made no such mistake off the tee.
One star who the Lions could well face in the opening Test, Waisake Naholo, then came to the fore, first winning a breakdown penalty on 19 minutes before five minutes later he was over for the first try, bouncing off lock Courtney Lawes in a powerful finish that made it 10-3.
With Lawes off because of that clash the Lions needed to respond and did just that on the half-hour. From a collapsed line-out drive they moved the ball left and Joseph capitalised on Sopoaga’s slip to sprint over, with Dan Biggar levelling well off the tee for 10-10 at the break.
Three minutes into the second 40 the Lions were gifted a try as Sopoaga’s loose kick-pass on halfway was caught by Seymour who raced over untouched down the left wing. Biggar was unsuccessful with his conversion attempt but it was still the perfect start for the tourists.
Sopoaga did manage to bring his side back to 15-13 down six minutes later after a late no-arm tackle from Kyle Sinckler, but the fly-half made another error soon after as his loose pass led to an attacking scrum which in turn saw Warburton power over. That put them 13-22 up.
It was then the Highlanders turning the screw as they snubbed two shots at goal and instead opted for the corner, with the Lions holding firm until a line-out drive on the hour mark saw hooker Coltman power over at the tail. With Banks’ extras the hosts were only 22-20 adrift.
The Lions should’ve moved five points clear following a late tackle from Buckman on Biggar but the latter’s replacement, Farrell, missed his shot at goal. That offence came after a breathless passage that sparked wholesale changes from both sides ahead of a frantic finish.
There were signs that the Highlanders were beginning to gain an edge at scrum time and that was evident on 73 minutes when replacement Aki Seiuli got the better of Dan Cole. Banks, as he’s done all year, did the rest from wide out and the Highlanders moved into the lead.
The Lions though still had one chance following an offside from the Highlanders but Daly’s long-range penalty attempt fell just short as the Highlanders managed to hold on for a famous win, much to the delight of their fans.
Tries: Naholo, Coltman
Cons: Sopoaga, Banks
Pens: Sopoaga 2, Banks
For British and Irish Lions:
Tries: Joseph, Seymour, Warburton
Cons: Biggar 2
Highlanders: 15 Richard Buckman, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock (c), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Jimmy Lentjes, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Patrick Osborne
British & Irish Lions: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Rhys Webb, 8 CJ Stander, 7 Sam Warburton (c), 6 James Haskell, 5 Iain Henderson, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Rory Best, 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Ken Owens, 17 Jack McGrath, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Alun Wyn Jones, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Owen Farrell, 23 Elliot Daly
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzère, Mathieu Raynal
TMO: Marius Jonker