28 Jun 2017

Lions pay for their sins

4:32 pm on 28 June 2017

Like Fred Dagg clambering over one of his farmyard gates, the Lions came an awful cropper at the end, writes Michael Reid.

Hurricanes' Julian Savea runs the ball .

The Hurricanes' Julian Savea runs the ball during Tuesday's match against the Lions. Photo: Photosport

The Kiwis couldn't believe how lucky they were when Iain Henderson's sin-binning opened the door for a 14-point fightback to tie it up, 31-31, much to the delight of the locals.

The British and Irish media, however, were in no laughing mood.

"The Lions compounded two days of acrimony by throwing away victory for a galling draw with the Hurricanes in Wellington," said the Independent.

That said, there were few complaints about the stellar rugby on display.

"It was entertaining stuff from both teams and a welcome return to the field of play after three days of accusations and arguments between the Lions and All Blacks camps following last Saturday's first Test," enthused the Irish Examiner.

The Guardian's blogger agreed. "An excellent match, and it seems a draw is about right. The Hurricanes were too indisciplined throughout but showed their class to come back to 31-31, and the Lions did well to hold on for the draw in the end.

"It will have plenty of impact on selection for Saturday but savour that match first - it was breathless."

Lions coach Warren Gatland during the match against the Hurricanes

Lions coach Warren Gatland during Tuesday's match Photo: Photosport

Entertaining, maybe, but the result will have ramifications for the return to the Cake Tin. The Lions will not be happy with letting such a healthy lead slip.

It left the midweek side with only one win from four, moaned the Mirror, "and was exactly what Gatland and his coaches could have done without as they try to lift their side to save the series on the same pitch four days from now".

The Telegraph also bemoaned the lack of momentum going into the crunch match against the All Blacks.

"Up to that point [leading 23-7 at half-time] it had been a telling performance from the midweek side, promising just the sort of fillip the whole squad needed in the countdown to the make-or-break second test. It was not to be and there was a deflated air at the final whistle.

"The bench was stacked with the ad-hoc replacements from Wales and Scotland with Warren Gatland [loathe] to use them. The Lions ran out of puff with 14 men, battling but exposed."

As for Saturday's selection, locks Courtney Lawes and Iain Henderson were hurriedly pencilled in by the assorted scribes. Scotland's Herald said the pair had "cranked up the pressure in terms of pushing for a place in the test 23, though it was Henderson's yellow card that proved so costly".

The Lions' Jack Nowell and Nehe Milner-Skudder of the Hurricanes.

The Lions' Jack Nowell and Nehe Milner-Skudder of the Hurricanes Photo: Photosport

For the Telegraph, midweek maestro Jack Nowell again caught the eye, as did Tommy Seymour with a two-try cameo and fellow wing George North, who also went over in a more prominent display than of late. For others, this may have been their swansong in the red jersey.

Lawes' departure with 30 minutes left on the clock was seen by all and sundry as an indication of Gatland's thinking - something we have rarely been party to on this tour.

As ever, looking as miserable as a bandicoot, he told Sky Sports post-match: "We had Henderson off the field for 10 minutes and conceded 14 points. To me that's the game in a nutshell."

But he did not seem overly concerned, and as the Guardian's analyst pointed out, his priority is the second test. "The manner in which the Lions are switching off will concern him, though."

So, when all is said and done, things are not yet appallingly bad. The coach has been under constant attack, but he may yet prevail.

Just has to tell his men, "Remember, we want to see good clean ball, and for god's sake feed the backs."

Mick Reid is an Australian journalist who has called Old Blighty home for too long. A late convert to the oval ball game, he has worked at the past three Rugby World Cups and considers himself a neutral - of sorts.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.