18 Jun 2017

Lions win: Now we've got something to talk about

7:57 am on 18 June 2017

Opinion - Rust. It's the excuse that got bandied about the British & Irish Lions' underwhelming start to the tour.

However, it seems like it's been well and truly been shaken off with a big 32-10 win over the Māori All Blacks.

Lions players celebrate scoring a penalty try.

Lions players celebrate scoring a penalty try. Photo: Photosport

This is exactly what the Lions needed. On their last tour in 2005, the lead up games were against below-strength provincial sides which made it rather difficult to gauge where they were at going into the first test.

This time around, they've found themselves up against the best of what NZ has to offer - and even the most cynical Kiwi fan can say they've at least hold parity, despite two close losses to the Blues and Highlanders.

One thing to bear in mind is that the rust excuse could be used by the Māori All Blacks, but that doesn't really hide what was a horrible performance. The big Rotorua crowd weren't so much silenced by the ruthless way the Lions went about winning, but the fact that the home side did absolutely nothing in the second half.

In fact, it took them until the 75th minute to even get the ball in the Lions' half. They didn't make it into their 22 at all. Damian McKenzie, so dominant in Super Rugby, got given nothing to work with and was smashed time and time again by the Lions' loose forwards.

You would've thought the history between the two teams could've counted for something, but the Māori simply disappeared in the Rotorua mist.

This was what the British are on about when they criticise high scoring Super Rugby and laud the brutal way their sides go about winning. But this was a step up from the primitive way they went about it in Christchurch.

This was built on a solid rugby game plan, not a reliance on some interesting interpretations by a ref and booting the ball as high and as often as possible.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow's time in the bin meant they gashed the Māori for 14 points, but it's unlikely that this would've changed the end result had it not happened.

Ben Te'o makes a break for the Lions.

Ben Te'o makes a break for the Lions. Photo: Photosport

Ben Te'o and Jonathan Davies were free to run through the generous holes that the Māori gave them. Immediately you could tell that the crowd were thinking about the way that the All Blacks were exposed the night before at Eden Park in the first 20 minutes, before pulling away to thrash Manu Samoa.

If the Lions are to achieve the impossible and beat the All Blacks, that's where the road to do it lies. Te'o offers a lot more than just the human battering ram that everyone thought he'd be on this tour, showing deft footwork and timing to make his line breaks.

The Lions weren't showing that they are capable of the All Black's flair on display on Friday - but we are seeing how they will counter it. This was as big a statement of intent that they could give a week out from a test that suddenly has become a lot more interesting.

Warren Gatland is sitting about 20 feet away from me right now talking about how they're here to win a test series and nothing else. It's true that if they can play like they did in this game they'll go a long way to achieving that aim.

But even he knows that on it's own, this will be remembered as one of the best performances by a Lions side in New Zealand, ever.

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