The British and Irish Lions achieved the first midweek win of their New Zealand tour, beating the Hamilton-based Chiefs 34-6 on Tuesday to bolster morale four days ahead of the first test against the All Blacks.
After earlier midweek losses to the Auckland-based Blues and Dunedin-based Highlanders, the Lions produced their best attacking performance of the tour, scoring tries in each half to winger Jack Nowell, another to center Jared Payne and adding a penalty try from a collapsed maul.
The match followed the familiar pattern of the tour for the first 60 minutes as the Lions used a dominant set piece, accurate kicking and suffocating defense to wear down their opponents.
Once their superiority was established, they gave full vent to their attacking flair for the first time in the six warmup games.
Nowell was at the heart of action all three times the Lions crossed for tries.
He handled twice in the first, finally hurling himself over the top of a ruck to score. He showed superb finishing ability to score the second, which ranged from one try-line to the other and showed the full range of the tourists’ handling and passing skills.
And he fielded a kick and initiated the counter attack that led to the third, scored by New Zealand-born Payne who began his top level career in Hamilton for Waikato province and the Chiefs.
Payne should have had a second try late in the match when Scotland winger Tommy Seymour, who came off the bench, made a brilliant run through the middle of the Chiefs defense and handed off. But Payne dropped a simple pass with the line open.
Few of the players who took the field for the Lions on Tuesday are likely to feature in the lineup which will face the All Blacks at Eden Park on Saturday. But the midweekers performed a vital role in continuing the momentum the Lions achieved with last weekend’s win over the New Zealand Maori.
”We’re very happy,” Lions captain Rory Best said. ”This was a tough fixture and we talked all week about character, about playing for each other and trying to get a win in this midweek match.
”We felt we’d played quite well in the previous two. We’ve been in some great positions and haven’t finished it off and we showed in the last five minutes what it meant to us to be ahead by a bit and still not let them cross the line.”
Best said the platform from the Lions’ solid scrum and maul created opportunities for the backs.
”When we got some decent ball we showed what the backline can do,” he said. ”That’s about enjoying rugby and enjoying playing with the ball in hand.”
The Chiefs were under-strength, lacking at least 10 regulars from their Super Rugby lineup, but that didn’t diminish the quality or importance of the Lions win. They have been occasionally criticized in their first five tour matches for a lack of attacking enterprise but they showed against the Chiefs they can do the basics with total efficiency while still producing an expansive game.
While they had every reason to be proud of their well-executed tries, they might have been equally as pleased to have kept the Chiefs tryless and restrict them to two penalties to flyhalf and captain Stephen Donald.
”I thought they were excellent,” Donald said. ”They suffocated us and then scored some great tries.”