Lions take the scalp of weakened Chiefs

Comfortable win unlikely to unduly alter the thinking of Gatland and his coaches for first test

Waikato Chiefs 6 British & Irish Lions 34

Another handsome Lions win. The midweekers finally emulated their Saturday squad mates with what was, for some of them, a first win at the third time of asking. They even decorated this with three nicely executed tries from their backs. The Lions are roaring.

Granted, it would have been a grave disappointment if they had done anything less, for while this was mostly the reserve team at this juncture of the tour, it was still a vastly experienced Lions starting XV.

Their pack did its job, and once again the set-pieces provided a strong platform, and for Rory Best this was redemption of sorts after the defeat against the Bruumbies four years ago when he was captain and had a horrid night with his darts.


As an aside, after a huge fuss about relatively little only Allan Dell - who temporarily replaced James Haskell while Joe Marler was sinbinned - made it onto the pitch of the six Welsh and Scottish players called up over the weekend. As Warren Gatland had said, a player is not a Lion until he's on the pitch. The other five will have to wait until the final midweek game next Tuesday.

This win probably won’t unduly alter the thinking of Gatland and his coaches when they convene in Auckland to select the first test tomorrow.

Admittedly, the back three did do well. Jack Nowell was typically busy, and was rewarded with a brace of tries - which in the process made him, eh, the leading try scorer on tour (the Lions have also been awarded two penalty tries). Elliot Daly went well on the left wing too, and perhaps pointedly was first of the back three to be hauled off, conceivably for a spot on the bench next Saturday.

Jared Payne, who went to school hereabouts and initially played for Waikato, scored upon his return. Robbie Henshaw had, mostly, a better night, was heavily involved physically. Iain Henderson, who had an industrious night, would have had the other try had Jerome Garces not already headed towards the posts to give the midweek forwards their turn at a penalty try off a lineout drive.

The Lions led 13-6 at the break but Gatland and the coaching staff would probably have been disappointed with that. They had the territory and forward control to have built more of a lead, but unforced errors and turnovers were compounded by the midweek malaise of ill-discipline. Despite being predominantly on the front foot, the first half penalty count was 6-4 against the tourists, one of which had also led to a yellow card for Joe Marler for an off the ball shot.

Best, Henderson, James Haskell, Justin Tipuric and Marler put in good shifts, as the defence had another good night, while as ever CJ Stander led the charge.

Greig Laidlaw hindered the Lions' tempo.

Although Dan Biggar had another good game, landing all of his kicks and looking well up for it, Greig Laidlaw's tendency to step and/or look, and the occasionally slow pass, hindered the Lions' tempo. But their first half efforts contributed to wearing down the inexperienced Chiefs and pulling clear with three second-half scores.

In the face of the Lions' in-yer-face rush defence, Stephen Donald opted for a few kicks over the top, but these were generally well read by the sweepers, notably Daly and Nowell.

Another unseasonal sunny and warm winter’s day had given way to a lovely dry, crisp night for rugby. A crowd of 30,000 were crammed into the FMG Stadium, with the additional seating at one end of the ground increasing the capacity. As ever, the pristine pitch was akin to a snooker table.

After the customary Maori infused pre-match build-up and home team haka, it was Nowell who put the Lions on the front foot when gathering loose ball from Dan Cole and slipping out of two tackles, offloading for the supporting Haskell. Another 19 phases of carefully controlled recycling ended with Liam Williams knocking on, the Lions had the consolation of the opening penalty by Biggar for offside

Cue a bout of extended continuity by the Chiefs, which was repelled with equal ferocity in the tackle and discipline, until Marler shoulder charged Nepo Laulala. After recourse to the TMO, Ian Smith of Australia, Marler was yellow carded. The Chiefs opted to go to the corner and give their pack a lineout drive against the Lions' seven-man pack. But Stander muscled through onto the ball carrier and with help from Haskell and Lawes amongst others, held up the maul to engineer a turnover.

This also led to one of the late Scottish call-ups, Dell, coming on for his first Lions’ cap in place of Haskell while Marler cooled his jets. What happened next was scarcely believed, as Dell and co steamrollered the Waikato pack with Payne, educated at Hamilton Boys High School, stepping in at blindside for the scrum.

After a big rumble by Stander, Mitch Brown was pinged for not rolling away, albeit he looked to be held down by Cole and Biggar made it 6-0.

But when Johnny Fa'auli trucked up lineout ball, Lawes was penalised for hands in the ruck and Donald opened his team's account. Prior to the kick, Jerome Garces took Finlay Christie aside to tell him "you talk too much". The lippy Christie, born in Scotland before moving to New Zealand when he was seven, wasn't having it, claiming "I was talking to my forwards."

A sequence of knock-ons by the Chiefs' Tom Sanders and Christie, either side of one by Lawes, saw the Lions engineer a break out wide for Nowell thanks to a deft piece of skill by Williams, stepping out from a tackle before he even received Biggar's pass. Stander and Marler carried it up, as did Biggar with some good footwork, before Nowell, as he does, appeared on the scene to pick up and plough over. The key was the clean-out by Best. Biggar converted for a 13-3 lead.

An unnecessarily long skip pass by Payne, who apologised to those outside immediately, did for the next Lions attack, before he carried well after Biggar’s tackle on Donald forced a spillage and Tim Nanai-Wiliams was penalised for his lazy retreat from the ensuing ruck. However, the Lions’ lineout drive was held up for a turnover scrum, from which Biggar was penalised for a high hit on Sanders. A clever lineout move had Christie sniping through at the tail from an inside pass, and when the Lions went offside Donald closed out the half with the three-pointer.

Soon after the restart, there was an interesting moment in light of Warren Gatland highlighting New Zealand teams’ tactic of blocking off the ball, whether of those seeking to support breaks or chasing kicks. When Nowell was blocked by Fa’auli in chasing a high ball by Biggar, the TMO prompted Garces to award a penalty.

That came to nothing, as did another attack when Fa’auli raced up to nail Henshaw. The Lions were briefly imperilled when Daly failed to pick up the loose ball and Siegfried Fisi’ihoi crashed through Lawes and Marler, who clashed heads. The unfortunate Lawes was belatedly taken off for an HIA minutes later to be replaced by Alun Wyn Jones, whereas Marler was bandaged up.

Even so, the Lions kept knocking and kept going back to their set-piece, much like last Saturday. Eventually the pressure had to tell as another maul was hauled down and, again much like Rotorua, Garces trotted under the posts to award a penalty try, so denying Henderson the touchdown.

Tipuric's innate footballing skills triggered the move

Stander was unluckily penalised for playing the ball on the deck, when it looked for all the world like a clean rip off Nanai-Williams while still off their feet. Donald went to the corner for an attacking lineout, from which the Lions scored their best try of the tour.

Tipuric's innate footballing skills triggered the move, as he latched onto the overthrow by Liam Polwart, and had the presence of mind to fire a long pass behind him to Biggar. Henshaw, Payne and Williams combined to release Daly up the touchline. He made good yards before pasing left to right across his body infield to Payne, who offloaded to the supporting Henshaw. Henderson's fabulous left to right pass gave Nowell the room to step two defenders to score his second try.

Five minutes later, Nowell swept infield to collect a telegraphed chip by Nanai-Williams, and Williams took a nice line let to cut through the wilting Chiefs, offloading out of the last tackle for the supporting Payne to score on one of his old hunting grounds. Biggar converted again for a 34-6 lead.

Boring, boring Lions indeed!

There would have been another counter-attacking try from another re-gathered Chiefs kick when Tommy Seymour hared onto Biggar's pass, cutting through and then veering out wide to link with Payne, only to fire the pass to below knee level.

That was pretty much it, one more dust-up and finally another Cole turnover at the breakdown enabling Biggar to kick the ball dead. Job done. Now for the minor matter of the first test!

Scoring sequence: 10 mins Biggar pen 0-3; 18 mins Biggar pen 0-6; 21 mins Donald pen 3-6; 26 mins Nowell try, Biggar con 3-13; 40 (+ 2 mins) Donald pen 6-13; (half-time 6-13); 54 mins penalty try, Biggar con 6-20; 59 mins Nowell try, Biggar con 6-27; 64 mins Payne try, Biggar con 6-34.

Chiefs: Shaun Stevenson; Toni Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams, Johnny Fa'auli, Solomon Alaimalo; Stephen Donald, Finlay Christie; Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, Liam Polwart, Nepo Laulala: Dominic Bird, Michael Allardice: Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Tom Sanders. Replacements: Chase Tiatia for Pulu (12 mins), Liam Messam for Sanders (55 mins), Jonathan Taumateine for Christie (58 mins), Hika Elliot for Polwart (60 mins), Luteru Laulala for Alaimalo (66 mins), Aidan Ross for Fisi'ihoi, Atu Moli for N Laulala, Mitchell Karpik for Allardice (all 65 mins). Sinbinned: Brown (55-65 mins),

British & Irish Lions: Liam Williams (Scarlets, Wales); Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs, England), Jared Payne (Ulster, Ireland), Robbie Henshaw (Leinster, Ireland), Elliot Daly (Wasps, England); Dan Biggar (Ospreys, Wales), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, Scotland); Joe Marler (Harlequins, England), Rory Best (Ulster, Ireland, capt), Dan Cole (Leicester Tigers, England); Iain Henderson (Ulster, Ireland), Courtney Lawes (Northampton Saints, England); James Haskell (Wasps, England), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys, Wales), CJ Stander (Munster, Ireland). Replacements: Allan Dell (Edinburgh Rugby, Scotland) for Haskell (14-22 mins), Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys, Wales) for Lawes (54-58 mins), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland) for Daly (60 mins), Daly for Payne (77 mins). Not used: Kristian Dacey (Cardiff Blues, Wales), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs, Wales), Cory Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons, Wales), Gareth Davies (Scarlets, Wales), Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors, Scotland). Sinbinned: Marler (12-22 mins).

Referee: Jerome Garces (France).

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times