The Highlanders rallied to reverse a 22-13 deficit with 20 minutes to go and beat the British and Irish Lions 23-22 on Tuesday night at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin. Here are our five takeaways from the thriller, which saw the Lions fall to a 2-2 record on their New Zealand tour.
Set piece joy for ’Landers
The Highlanders performed admirably to dominate set pieces against the Lions, and in the end it not only allowed them to wrestle control of the game, but also score points directly off it.
At scrum time the Highlanders won on all seven occasions they packed down, while their opponents could manage only four of six.
The lineout was an area the hosts leaned on heavily, frequently electing to use it as an attacking tool, and for good reason. The Highlanders won 10 of 11, with their crucial try to Liam Coltman on the hour mark coming off the back of a perfect lineout drive.
Great lineout drive and try from the Highlanders, almost impossible to defend without giving away a penalty #HIGvBIL
— Richard Thomas (@RJT373) June 13, 2017
— Dominic Boyle (@dominicboyle) June 13, 2017
The overall performance underlined the gutsy Highlanders’ overall depth, heading into the match without top-line forwards Elliot Dixon, Ash Dixon, Tom Franklin, Joe Wheeler and Liam Squire, along with backline stars Aaron Smith, Ben Smith and Rob Thompson.
Boot betrays Lions
Execution off the kicking tee is rarely something which lets down teams from the Northern Hemisphere, but on Tuesday night the visitors twice blew chances to win the game with penalties.
With the contest sitting finely in the balance with 11 minutes remaining and the Lions ahead 22-20, Owen Farrell pushed an attempt wide in what was his first kick of the game after subbing on.
Eight minutes later – and this time with the touring side trailing 23-22 – another bench man, Elliot Daly, attempted a monster effort from 56-odd metres, only for it to fall agonisingly short.
Disappointing result for the Lions had chances to win that game Farrell and daly both missing penalties, some good individual performances
— Gavin Barrett (@GavinBarrettSJ) June 13, 2017
Sopoaga’s slipups almost costly
His blushes were spared in the end, but a pair of errors from Highlanders first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga led to the Lions scoring both of their second-half tries and put his side under immense pressure.
A poor kicking option from the current All Blacks squad member saw Tommy Seymour pluck the ball out of the air and score a runaway try on 43 minutes, before his wayward pass 10 minutes later gifted the tourists a scrum metres out from the line, which they quickly turned into a Sam Warburton try.
The key mistakes won’t have gone unnoticed by coaches of the national team, and Sopoaga – who has missed much of the season injured – probably didn’t do his All Blacks chances any favours on Tuesday night.
It may also prompt the Highlanders staff to persist with the super-reliable Marty Banks – who nailed the ice-cool go-ahead penalty from out wide with six minutes left – in the No.10 as the Super Rugby finals approach.
Two mistakes from Lima Sopoaga cost them two tries. Come on Lima.
— JeremiahAloalii (@jeremiahaloalii) June 13, 2017
Tries for the Lions, finally
After just 43 minutes in Dunedin the Lions had already scored as many tries against the Highlanders as they had managed in all three of their tour matches prior to Tuesday night.
Having already been over the line twice at that stage, the visiting side scored a third through captain Warburton to put an end to their struggles around finding the tryline.
The Lions seemed far more willing to chance their arm, with centre Jonathan Joseph particularly dangerous – though it proved their undoing on the last play of the game, flinging the ball wide when keeping it in tight and playing for a penalty might have been the way to go.
“We scored a couple of tries which was a positive, that was a work-on for us during the week,” Warburton said.
— Scotty Stevenson (@sumostevenson) June 13, 2017
Naholo a point of difference
Highlanders powerhouse Waisake Naholo was lethal in Dunedin, adding significant impact on both sides of the footy.
Naholo looks hideous to tackle
— joss adams (@JossAdams0) June 13, 2017
The Fijian-born winger made a couple of key busts early in the encounter, and showed pure pace and power to open the try-scoring on 26 minutes, bursting past some desperate cover defence.
He finished the game with three clean breaks, having beaten four defenders and run 60 metres, while he was assured under the high ball and solid in his tackles and at the breakdown.
Special mention must also go to All Blacks discard Malakai Fekitoa, who was a constant threat with the ball in hand and a menace on defence to keep his name in the frame for international representation later in the year.
— Malakai Fekitoa (@MalakaiFekitoa) June 13, 2017