By Jordan Trott
- Lions suffer first defeat of the tour.
- Sonny Bill Williams in great form ahead of the Tests.
- CJ Stander scores Lions lone try.
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – The Lions lose to the Blues in a nail biting affair that saw Liam Williams sin-binned.
Sonny Bill Williams was the catalyst, as Super Rugby’s Blues handed the British and Irish Lions their first loss of their 2017 tour. A 75th minute try from replacement fly-half, Ihaia West, proved to be the winner – as the Blues stormed to victory. The Blues, coached by former All Black legend Tana Umaga, scored tries through Reiko Ioane, Sonny Bill Williams and West.
The Lions, who were leading 16-15 with 10 minutes to go, scored their sole try through No.8 CJ Stander. South African born Irishman, Stander, touched down in the 18th minute for Warren Gatland’s men and full-back Leigh Halfpenny added 11 with the boot.
Blues strike first
Umaga, who captained the All Blacks during their 3-0 whitewash of the Lions in 2005, made the bold move of handing a first start to Stephen Perofeta. The decision to select the 20 year-old fly half paid off, as the man nicknamed ‘Pero-futre’ was instrumental in the first try.
Prop Charlie Faumuina found Perofeta with a pop-pass, who then spread the ball out wide to Reiko Ioane, who finished in scintillating fashion. Ioane, who has scored 10 tries in Super Rugby this season, showed a clean set of heels to burn past Jack Nowell in the 9th minute. Ioane already has two caps for the All Blacks and he will be looking to secure a NZ berth for the first test on June 24th.
The Lions started promisingly, despite conceding the first try, and almost hit back immediately. Former Blues star, Jared Payne, thought he had levelled things up for the Lions, as he crashed over. However, the Ulsterman had been shunted out by Perofeta before he had grounded the ball.
The Lions did get their first score in the 18th minute. A successful driving maul saw CJ Stander go over for a try on his Lions debut. The Lions had twice passed up 3 points prior the score and their attacking intent paid off. Wales and Toulon full-back, Leigh Halfpenny, added the two, as the Lions took the lead.
The Lions maintained their pressure, after Dan Cole helped win a penalty from a scrum. The ever reliable Halfpenny duly knocked over the three, from right in front of the posts.
Blues step-up a gear
Ioane thought he had raced over for his second of the night after Dan Biggar lost the ball in the tackle. However, Blues captain and hooker, James Parsons was adjudged to have been offside, prior to tackling Biggar – who left the game with a concussion.
The Blues did get a try in the dying embers of the first half. Perofeta’s penalty hit the upright, following a Stander high tackle, and a commotion saw Sony Bill Willams touch down. After deferring to the Television Match Official, referee Paul Gaüzère awarded the try – after it was decided the final touch went backwards off Nowell. The Lions went in to the interval trailing 12-10.
Blues turn the screw following the break
Blues speedster Ioane once again thought he had dabbed down for his second score of the night. The 20 year-old, however, was once again denied by the TMO – who deemed he had been pushed into the whitewash by winger Nowell. England winger, Nowell, got an element of revenge, after being burned for the first score.
Perofeta was replaced by Iahia West at fly-half and West’s first duty was to slot a penalty concede by Maro Itoje. West did so confidently and the Blues opened up a five point gap. The Lions’ task became more daunting when Liam Williams was sin binned. The Saracens-bound full back made contact twice in quick succession with Matt Duffie in the air. Williams had replaced Payne, who hobbled off with an apparent hamstring injury.
The Lions fight back but were eventually tamed
Halfpenny was included for his word class goal-kicking and that is a reason he may be favourite to line up at 15, come the first test. The Welsh full-back slotted 11 points for the Lions and nailed a kick form 40 meters out, to put the Lions ahead by one with just 10 minutes left in the clock.
The Blues wrapped up the game with just five minutes to go. An incisive break from Steven Luatua got things going before he offered a superb offload to Sonny Bill Williams. World-Cup winner Williams offloaded to the replacement West, who cut through the Lions defence like a knife through butter, before touching over. It was a lightening quick try by the Blues and West duly knocked over the conversion.
That try proved too much for the Lions, who head to Christchurch to face the Crusaders on Saturday. The Crusaders are currently unbeaten in Super Rugby, as they sit atop of the New Zealand conference with 14 wins out of 14 games.
Lions XV: Leigh Halfpenny (Wales); Jack Nowell (England), Jared Payne, Robbie Henshaw (Both Ireland), Elliot Daly (England); Dan Biggar, Rhys Webb (Both Wales); Jack McGrath (Ireland), Ken Owens (C) (Wales), Dan Cole; Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes; James Haskell (All England), Justin Tipuric (Wales), CJ Stander (Ireland).
Replacements: Rory Best (Ireland), Joe Marler, Kyle Sinckler (Both England), Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony (Both Ireland), Greig Laidlaw (Scotland), Johnny Sexton (Ireland), Liam Williams (Wales).
Blues XV: Michael Collins; Matt Duffie, George Moala, Sonny Bill Williams, Rieko Ioane; Stephen Perofeta, Augustine Pulu; Ofa Tu’ungafasi, James Parsons (C), Charlie Faumuina; Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Scott Scarfton; Akira Ioane, Blake Gibson, Steven Luatua.
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Alex Hodgman, Sione Mafileo, Patrick Tuipulotu, Kara Pryor, Sam Nock; Ihaia West, TJ Faiane.
The Lions third match against the Crusaders kicks-off at 8:35am BST on Saturday. The game can be seen live on Sky Sports 1, whilst talkSPORT will provide radio commentary.
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