The British and Irish Lions claimed their biggest victory to date on the 2017 NZ Tour on Saturday night, producing a convincing effort to power past the Maori All Blacks 32-10. Here are our five key takeaways from the fifth game of their trip.
Lions hardly gave them a sniff
The Maori side led the game briefly in the early exchanges, following a Liam Messam try against the run of play, but outside of that they were thoroughly outplayed and didn’t get close to matching their opponents in the areas where it mattered most.
The Lions bossed possession across the 80 minutes, enjoying 68 per cent of the total ball and having 81 per cent of it in the second half, along with 75 per cent of the total territory.
The visitors won eight of their 10 mauls, while the Maori claimed zero from two, and by the end of the match the Lions had forced their opponents to make an extra 74 tackles (133 v 59).
The fact the tourists looked to the posts rather than the try-line for most of the night, electing to kick six penalties, meant the scoreboard didn’t fully reflect their dominance, but the other stats tell the story and this was a convincing effort from the Lions.
Great first half from the Lions. Only mistakes are keeping the Maoris in this. Cut them out and we should win comfortably #LionsNZ2017
— Lions Watch (@BigRedSportsXV) 17 June 2017
Discipline the downfall for Maori All Blacks
It was always going to be a tough ask to beat the Lions, but the Maori All Blacks shot themselves in the foot time and time again.
An inability to stick within the rules saw the hosts pinged for 15 penalties, compared to the Lions who conceded only four, with the visitors scoring 21 of their 32 points via penalty goals, reflecting the fact that the Maori All Blacks often committed infringements in easy kicking range.
Good pressure from the Lions inside the 22. Maori discipline in the breakdown isn't great. Coughing up points each time #LionsNZ2017
— David Orde (@David_Orde) 17 June 2017
On top of the poor discipline, the home side lost halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow to the sin bin for 10 minutes following a no arms tackle. It proved a costly period, with the Lions scoring twice in those 10 minutes, one of which was a penalty try and automatic seven points for a scrum infringement.
Maori All Blacks shipped 14 points while down to 14 men. Tawera Kerr-Barlow's got a few apologies to make #LionsNZ2017
— Jack de Menezes (@JackdeMenezes) 17 June 2017
“We gave away some simple penalties and got stuck in our own half for pretty much most of that match… we paid the price there,” Maori All Blacks captain Ash Dixon said.
Sexton and Halfpenny put their names forward
A week out from the first Test against the All Blacks, two Lions in particular put their hand up for selection with dominant showings in Rotorua.
At the back Leigh Halfpenny was safe as houses, contributing plenty of energetic play on the ball and crucially had a perfect night off the boot via six penalties and a conversion.
— Ladbrokes (@Ladbrokes) 17 June 2017
In the No.10 Sexton added another level to the ‘BIL’ attack, constantly threatening the line with his running game and managing play well for his side. Perhaps of most importance though was the manner in which he was able to combine with the likes of halfback Conor Murray and centre Jonathan Davies.
Johnny Sexton having an excellent game for the Lions, really testing the defensive line.
— Murray Kinsella (@Murray_Kinsella) June 17, 2017
Both Sexton and Halfpenny have created a nice selection headache for coach Warren Gatland heading into the next phase of the tour.
Set piece a strength for Lions
The Lions showed confidence in their set piece in Rotorua and came away with a perfect record in that area and a glut of points earned off the back of it.
They won all 12 off the scrums they fed, while at the lineout they claimed 11 of 11.
A powerful scrum was the catalyst for their penalty try on 51 minutes, after they dismantled the Maori resistance up against their own line, while they impressed with their relentless efforts after the first push, establishing complete dominance when the forwards came together.
It went from strength to strength too, and by the end of the match the set pieces were hardly a contest.
This is excellent rugby from lions, set pieces on point, squeezing them out and dominating every department especially scrum. Big statement
— Samuel (@smunday87) 17 June 2017
“Every game is based off a good set piece and it goes a long way to winning the game. I thought the boys were very good tonight, the lads did a huge amount of work in the second row… the front row boys drove our scrum and I thought were really impressive tonight,” Lions skipper Peter O’Mahony said.
Territory yes, tries no
They dominated all of the key areas of the match and enjoyed enough ball to have scored 50+ points, yet the Lions managed only 32 and scored just one try from open play.
Part of it comes down to their philosophy under Gatland, and despite what may be claimed in media interviews, this is a kick-first team who almost always prefer to take the points when they are on offer.
Add that to the reality that the visitors have struggled for cohesion in attack, and you get a dour look on the ball.
While they have been good enough via the boot to get home in their three victories to date, that won’t be enough to foot it with the All Blacks when the Tests come around.
Penalty try becomes the Lions' joint top try scorer this tour
— Charlie Eccleshare (@CDEccleshare) 17 June 2017