The British and Irish Lions thrashed the Chiefs 6-34 at Waikato Stadium in Hamilton to keep up their record of never losing consecutive midweek matches on tour after another dominant display from their forwards.
Jack Nowell, who was outstanding, scored a brace either side of the break. Jared Payne got on the scoreboard too, adding to a 55th-minute penalty try, as the tourists ran riot in the second-half.
Dan Biggar was flawless with the boot, kicking three conversions and two penalties for a match haul of 10 points.
Captain Rory Best was magnificent, playing in the mould of a loose forward and a wrecking ball with ball in hand, as he led his troops to the four-try to none, 28-point win.
He marshalled the backs well and kept the scoreboard ticking over. Warren Gatland’s team strangled their opponents at the set pieces and tight phases while shutting out their hosts with a strong defence.
They kept the Chiefs scoreless in the second-half, reducing them to just two Stephen Donald penalties in the opening 40 minutes as they led 6-13.
This was a brutal and clinical performance by the Lions and it had shades of Saturday’s victory over the Maori All Blacks. On to the Test series.
The Chiefs were without ten frontline players, who are with the All Blacks and it showed. But, the Lions did not use
But, the Lions did not use the called up players, instead choosing to only make substitutes for injuries – something not done much in modern day rugby.
Gatland caused a stir in deciding, for “geographical reasons” to call up Welshmen Cory Hill, Kristian Dacey, Gareth Davies and Tomas Francis, along with Scotland internationals Finn Russell and Allan Dell.
The New Zealander was accused in the media and by pundits and former players of showing bias towards Welsh internationals and of devaluing the jersey.
Only Alun Wyn Jones, Tommy Seymour and Dell made it onto the field. Jones came on for Courtney Lawes after he was taken off for an HIA; Dell for Haskell, after Joe Marler’s yellow card and Seymour for Elliot Daly, who returned to the field to replace Payne.
In doing so, Gatland made a point of not giving away cheap caps to players called up over Test veterans and in-form players in other parts of the world.
This meant the Lions had to hold out the Chiefs’ reinforcements, which they duly did, and with some ease.
Their attacking flair was absent without their playmakers and they could not break down the Lions.
It did not help that the Chiefs’ scrum and lineouts were poor, losing three on their own throw; one on 59 minutes, which led to Nowell’s second try from inside the Lions’ 22.
The Lions’ driving maul was powerful, leading to yet another penalty try on this tour, which broke their host’s spirit.
The Chiefs made too many silly handling errors as they looked to attack the wide channels and they were beaten convincingly at the breakdown – the cleanout leading up to Nowell’s double was textbook.
The opening quarter was an arm-wrestle as the teams took shots at each other.
Two Biggar penalties sandwiched one from Donald, before and after Marler was yellow carded for foul play after hitting Nepo Laulala late, high and off the ball.
Somehow, the Lions survived the 10 minutes with no damage to their slender lead. During this period, and without the English prop, they bulldozed a Chiefs’ scrum, setting the tone for the rest of the game.
The Lions were in their groove already and before Nowell scored his first try of the fixture. One series of play went 20 phases and twice in the second-half, they went 15 or more.
On 25 minutes the English wing crashed over from close range, diving around a ruck near the Chiefs’ try-line after some sustained pressure. Biggar’s conversion made it a seven-point lead.
Donald added his second penalty after the hooter at the end of the half, but that was as good as it would get for the Kiwis.
The first 15 minutes after the break set up the game for the tourists; they mauled, scrummed their hosts and dominated possession and territory, keeping the Chiefs to scraps and keeping them under immense pressure inside their half.
The pressure told soon after. From a lineout drive, the home team were pushed backwards on to their goal line.
The Lions’ forwards were rewarded with a penalty try and Mitchell Brown was – bizarrely – sent to the sin-bin for collapsing the driving maul, when it was Dominic Bird who looked guilty of entering from the side and bring the move down.
This was the straw that broke the Chiefs’ back. Within five minutes, the Waikato side had conceded twice and found themselves staring down the barrel at 6-27.
The third, and Nowell’s second, came from a stray lineout throw inside the Lions’ 22. Justin Tipuric collected the loose ball, passed to Biggar, who sent it wide.
The Lions’ backs all touched the ball before Liam Williams’ straightened. The ball was brought inside and at after Payne was tackled inside the Chiefs’ 22.
The cleanout was made, and Courtney Lawes picked up, went left, before switching play right. This was quick thinking by the lock and the right call.
The ball was shifted across the 22 to Nowell. The wing cut inside Donald, beat two defenders, including Donald’s second attempt, before diving over the whitewash. Biggar slotted the conversion.
Four minutes’ later, Payne got in on the act. It came from Williams’ break in midfield. The Welshman broke through the middle, beating three tacklers before offloading to the centre on his inside shoulder.
The Chiefs did not give up, but their efforts were in vain. The Lions ground down their vanquished opponents, slowing down the game – and left victorious.
Now for the Tests.
Final Score: Chiefs 6 (6) British and Irish Lions 34 (13)
Pen – Donald (2)
Cards – Brown (yellow, 55th minute)
British and Irish Lions
Tries – Nowell (2), Penalty try, Payne
Pen – Biggar (2)
Con – Biggar (3)
Cards – Marler (yellow, 12th minute)
Referee: Jérôme Garcès (France)
Assistant 1: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant 2: Romain Poite (France)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Tim Nanai-Williams, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Stephen Donald (captain), 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Liam Polwart, 1 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi.
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Mitchell Karpik, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Luteru Laulala, 23 Chase Tiatia.
British and Irish Lions
15 Liam Williams, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Robbie Henshaw, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Christiaan Stander, 7 Justin Tipuric, 6 James Haskell, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Iain Henderson, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Rory Best (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Tomas Francis, 19 Cory Hill, 20 Alun Wyn Jones, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Finn Russell, 23 Tommy Seymour