The Blues handed the British and Irish Lions their first loss of the 2017 New Zealand tour when they downed the visitors 22-16 at Eden Park in Auckland. Here are the five takeaways from Wednesday night’s epic clash.
Execution in final 10 minutes the key
With the Lions holding a 16-15 lead as the final 10 minutes arrived, the Blues rose to the occasion while the visitors squandered their chances to ice the result.
The locals were sublime in scoring the go-ahead try with seven minutes left, with Steven Luatua, playing his last home game for the Blues before departing to Bristol in the UK, offloading to Sonny Bill Williams who then produced an equally brilliant pass to get the ball away to a looming Ihaia West. The quicksilver replacement flyhalf did the rest.
— Bryce Parker (@bryce_parker26) June 7, 2017
“That’s why Steven and Sonny are All Blacks, because they did something special. We know how special Ihaia is off the bench and his pace just took it in the end,” Blues skipper James Parsons said.
The Lions on the other hand twice surrendered possession inside the final five minutes while camped metres out from the try-line, including a final-minute meltdown which saw the Blues recover a loose lineout and finish the match.
SBW made a big statement ahead of an intriguing All Blacks midfield selection discussion, aiming up massively in defence and coming up with several nice touches in attack before his sizzling assist in the clutch.
Clear improvement for visitors despite defeat
They may have lost, but the Lions showed some key improvements from their unconvincing first-up victory over the New Zealand Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei on June 3.
The Lions beat the Blues at set pieces, bossed 52 percent possession and played at a higher level than they had four days earlier, and did it against better quality opposition.
Captain Ken Owens said they could take some comforting factors into Saturday night’s daunting clash against the Crusaders at AMI Stadium in Christchurch.
“There were some positives, I thought our set piece worked very well, so we have got to build on that,” Owens said.
“We have got to jump straight back on the horse.”
Perofeta makes a start to remember
It was a heck of an occasion to make your first Super Rugby start, but Blues first-five Stephen Perofeta performed admirably on the big stage.
The 20-year-old was excellent in the first half, setting up his side’s opening try with a crisp pass to Rieko Ioane, displaying awareness and vision beyond his years.
Have the @BluesRugbyTeam finally found a first five worthy of the franchise? Outstanding start from Stephen Perofeta.
— Aidan Rodley (@Agent200) June 7, 2017
This Perofeta chap is pretty special… Kicking and passing like he’s been doing it for years. This is his first start for the Blues
— Tom Hamilton (@tomESPNscrum) June 7, 2017
His impact wasn’t limited purely to attack, with Perofeta also producing a brilliant covering tackle to deny the Lions a try early in the piece.
Some of his work was patchy and he played 50 minutes before being replaced by match-winner West, but there was certainly evidence the Blues have found a long-term solution to their No.10 headache.
Lions have plenty of reason to worry
Having limped past the Provincial Barbarians – a team full of amateur players – to open their tour, the Lions then failed to excite against the Blues.
While they have four New Zealand Super Rugby franchises still to play, the tourists couldn’t get past the NZ Conference’s worst side in the Blues, which must be causing coach Warren Gatland a huge headache.
It also means just 29 combined points scored in their opening two games, against what will almost certainly be their two easiest opponents of the tour.
The Lions’ line-up at Eden Park was far from their strongest combination, but Wednesday’s result may have cut down Gatland’s selection options for when the first Test rolls around.
MATE. If you’re losing to the worst Super Rugby team in the country, how do you plan on beating the All Blacks? #BLUvBIL
— Bon (@galgonemild) June 7, 2017
Kinda cool to discover that despite the evidence of last three years, the Blues do not, in fact, suck #BLUvBIL
— Alex Braae (@awbraae) June 7, 2017
Rieko Ioane gives a late reminder
If he doesn’t end up in the All Blacks’ squad, he will have surely gone very close.
Blues winger Rieko Ioane made sure he was involved in plenty on Wednesday night, popping up to make his presence felt on a number of occasions.
After scoring the opening try, the 20-year-old flyer then had a second disallowed in the first half when an offside call was made in the lead-up to his long-range effort, before he was denied twice in the second stanza thanks to a last-ditch tackle and then a forward pass decision.
The younger of the Ioane brothers did everything in his power to send a late message to All Blacks coach Steve Hansen – but there’s little doubt he’s a long-term Test star.
Rieko Ioane is just awesome today👏🏼#BLUvBIL
— Jonah Jones (@levi_jones76) June 7, 2017